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Isaac Julien: Playtime

1/8
'ECLIPSE (Playtime)' 2013

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

2/8
Installation view 'PLAYTIME', 2014

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

3/8
Installation view 'PLAYTIME', 2014

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

4/8
'MIRAGE (Playtime)' 2013

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

5/8
'HORIZON/ELSEWHERE (Playtime)' 2013

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

6/8
'ALTAR (Playtime)' 2013

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

7/8
'EMERALD CITY/CAPITAL (Playtime)' 2013

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

8/8
'ENIGMA' 2014

© Isaac Julien. Courtesy the Artist, Victoria Miro, London & Metro Pictures, New York

Free

Showing across seven screens suspended in Victoria Miro’s vast Wharf Road gallery, Isaac Julien’s feature-length film installation is a visual spectacle to make you gasp. Yet the lavishness is wholly appropriate, given that the subject of ‘Playtime’ is global capitalism. Filmed in London, Reykjavik and Dubai (looking especially gothic and eerie), the film is full of shots of luxurious interiors, vaulting architectural spaces and scintillating nocturnal cityscapes as it follows a variety of emblematic characters through the shadily intersecting worlds of art and finance. Power hungry hedge-funders, an oppressed domestic maid, a bankrupt artist and a posturing art dealer (played to supremely repellent effect by James Franco) all contribute their stories, together conjuring a complex, dreamlike, and occasionally surreal atmosphere.

It’s both sumptuous and darkly satirical. Which isn’t to say Julien’s piece is without hiccups. The script, particularly, tends to feel slightly forced, with characters’ dialogue clearly meant to hammer home certain pedagogical points about capitalism. And this feeling extends to a second video work, the twin-screen ‘Kapital’, which consists of footage from an academic conference that Julien organised at the Southbank Centre in 2012. While the actual discussions – all about Marxism and social class – are fascinating, they serve to make ‘Playtime’ seem a bit too much like an illustration of academic theory.

Ultimately, of course, as the conference speakers point out, capitalism itself is unrepresentable. Like gravity, it can only be discerned through its effects. And it’s these effects Julien is so good at describing, his camera luxuriating in the surface details, the lustrous and sometimes decrepit veneers of a world shaped and spectacularly misshapened by flows of wealth.

Gabriel Coxhead

Event phone: 020 7336 8109
Event website: http://www.victoria-miro.com
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Curated London

This two-part exhibition of video installations and photos is spread over Victoria Miro’s two galleries - Mayfair and Islington. This, along with the subject matter (the meaning of capital in the 21st century) makes it rather inaccessible. Guest writer Phil Nicol went to both sites to find out more. The two video installations at the Wharf Road gallery are long. Really long. Playtime lasts nearly 70 minutes, which is fine for a feature film, but this lacks narrative as it tries to explore the interplay of the international art and money markets, and the various people affected. If you come in halfway through, the seven-screen format doesn’t exactly make for coherent viewing. Having said that, there’s a good international cast of actors, and some of the images of Dubai, London and Iceland are beautiful. The other installation - Kapital - is shorter at just over half an hour, but centres on a bone-dry semi-academic discussion about the theories of Karl Marx. The Mayfair gallery has a handful of large, colour-saturated stills taken from the video installation at Wharf Road. The standout piece, though, is in the gallery’s window: a time-lapse cityscape video of 2,500 still images of Dubai at night. It’s a twinkling modern capital city, built on a scale where people look insignificant. It’s worth a look just for this, but only if you’re in the area. For more of the latest art news and reviews, check out www.curatedlondon.co.uk