National Galleries Scotland and Edinburgh Art Festival were delighted to work together to present the UK and European premiere of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour. This major new ten-screen film installation by celebrated British artist Isaac Julien, CBE, RA, offered a poetic meditation on the life and times of Frederick Douglass, the visionary African American orator, philosopher, intellectual, and self-liberated freedom-fighter, who was born into slavery in Maryland, USA. From 1845-7, Douglass made repeated visits to Edinburgh, while campaigning across the UK and Ireland against US slavery.
Filmed at sites in Edinburgh, London and Washington DC, Julien’s work is informed by some of Douglass’ most important speeches, including Lessons of the Hour, What to the Slave is the 4th of July? and Lecture on Pictures. In this 1861 lecture, Douglass, who as the most photographed American in the 19th century was keenly alert to the power of images, expressed his vision of how picture-making and photography could offer powerful tools in the fight for social justice and equal human rights for all.
Julien’s work unfolds across ten screens evoking the style of a 19th century salon hang, and combining tableaux vivants which imagine Douglass with key figures from his public and private life, with montaged footage from recent times, weaving together present and past. Describing his approach as ‘a staging of history seen through a contemporary lens’, Julien’s powerful and compelling portrait foregrounds the continued relevance and urgency of Douglass’s words in the present day. The film installation was accompanied by Julien’s tin-types and mise-en-scène photographs.
Image: Isaac Julien, JP Ball Studio, 1867 (Lessons of the Hour), 2019. © the artist.
Isaac Julien CBE, RA, (born 1960) is a distinguished installation artist, filmmaker and distinguished Professor at UC Santa Cruz. His multi-screen film installations and photographs incorporate different artistic disciplines to create a poetic and unique visual language. His notable documentary-drama, Looking for Langston (1989) garnered Julien a cult following, and his 1991 debut feature film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His works have been presented shown in solo exhibitions and biennales internationally and his works are held in collections across the world. www.isaacjulien.com
Presented by Edinburgh Art Festival in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland. Supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund and EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, with additional support from British Council Scotland, ProAV, David Narro Associates, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, and MacFadden & Thorpe.
Lessons of the Hour was originally commissioned and acquired by the Memorial Art Gallery with the partnership of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and with generous support from Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss, the Zell Family, Ford Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Lori Van Dusen, and Deborah Ronnen and Sherman Levey. The commission was also made possible by Barbara and Aaron Levine, the Maurice and Maxine Forman Fund, the Marion Stratton Gould Fund, the Herdle-Moore Fund, the Strasenburgh Fund, and the Lyman K. and Eleanore B. Stuart Endowment Fund at the Memorial Art Gallery, and the Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Production of the work was generously supported by Metro Pictures, New York; Victoria Miro, London/Venice; the Arts Division of the University of California Santa Cruz; and by Eastman Kodak Company, on whose film stock the installation was shot. With additional support from Linda Pace Foundation, and Carol Weinbaum (Outset Contemporary Art Fund/CAF Canada).
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