Isaac Julien: Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) / National YoungArts Foundation, Miami

During Art Basel in Miami Beach 2015, Isaac Julien’s Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) was shown at the Jewel Box of the National YoungArts Foundation in Miami. The video installation was originally shown as a preview during the 56th edition of La Biennale di Venezia and had its public debut during Art Basel in Basel 2015. The work was commissioned as part of the Rolls-Royce Art Program. The pictures for the film were taken in isolated glacial ice caves in the South East region of Vatnajökull in Island. The work was inspired by a passage from a letter taken from the anthology Stones Against Diamonds, written by the modernist architect and designer Lina Bo Bardi.

Isaac Julien: Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) / National YoungArts Foundation, Miami. VIP Brunch, December 3, 2015.

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Press text:

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, in partnership with the National YoungArts Foundation, will present the North American debut of Isaac Julien’s work Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) during Art Basel in Miami Beach 2015. The work by the Turner Prize nominated artist, commissioned as part of the Rolls‑Royce Art Programme, will be shown from 1-5 December 2015 at the National YoungArts Foundation ­– located at the nexus of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, Arts and Entertainment District and Edgewater. The video installation will fill the interior of the magnificent YoungArts Jewel Box across 15 screens, the largest and most impressive presentation of the work to date.

Isaac Julien is one of Britain’s most important and influential artists. His work is the latest compelling addition to the Rolls-Royce Art Programme, founded in celebration of the marque’s commitment to creating unique, rare and aesthetically powerful motor cars, which transcend the world of conveyance to become works of art themselves. The programme seeks to draw together the handcrafted elegance of the marque’s motor cars with contemporary artists around the world, including internationally acclaimed artists Ugo Rondinone, Erwin Wurm, Regina Silveira, Will Cotton, Angela Bulloch and Morgan Wong. Julien’s commission extends his ongoing relationship with the marque following an ‘artist talk’ that he gave as part of the Rolls-Royce Art Programme during Frieze Art Fair London in 2012.

“Isaac Julien is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary artists. His work draws from and comments on a range of disciplines and practices, uniting them to create powerful and entrancing works of art, in this case, a dramatic audio-visual film installation for Rolls-Royce,” commented Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Chief Executive Officer, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “The origins of our motor cars, commissioned in the same vein, share this spirit. An amalgamation of creativity, skill and the world’s most beautiful natural materials unite to form a timeless piece of automotive art.”

Isaac Julien, artist, commented, “On visiting the Home of Rolls-Royce last year, I observed an authentic connection between crafting a Rolls-Royce car and creating an artwork. Both call for highly developed technology and techniques, extreme attention to detail, design and, of course, concept.” He continued, “The creation of this film echoes the endeavour of crafting a perfect motor car. Indeed, my work unfolds as a sort of craftsmanship, in the sense that I am concerned with reaching a level of skillfulness that aspires to represent the century-long traditions of handicraft expertise.”

To create the Rolls-Royce commission, Isaac Julien took a film crew of 50 to the wilderness of Iceland, where they filmed for five days in isolated glacial ice caves in the South East region of Vatnajökull. The artist interpreted this remote landscape as a metaphor of the unconscious, a place of rich beauty but difficult to access other than through the processes of psychoanalysis and artistic reflection.

The work was inspired by a passage from a letter taken from the anthology Stones Against Diamonds, written by the seminal modernist architect and designer, the Italian-born Brazilian Lina Bo Bardi. Julien’s work of the same name explores themes within this text where Bo Bardi admires the beauty of natural elements over precious stones, believing them to be more beautiful, and describing how collecting semi-precious stones helped inspire the architect and designer to rethink design in a most remarkable way. Signature elements of Bo Bardi’s work have left a lasting impression on both international architects and designers. Julien’s film installation incorporates her famed spiral staircase at Solar do Unhão in Bahia, Brazil; the first stage meticulously built on set in sub-zero temperatures, later continued and then merged using CGI post-production. Furthering the parallels, Julien includes Bo Bardi’s signature easels which are made of glass and concrete, two elements present in the majority of her practice. Julien references these in both the film itself and in the presentation of his work, where the film is shown on flat screens and supported by concrete blocks.

Vanessa Myrie, an actress and performer who has worked on several of Julien’s previous projects such as True North (2004) and Western Union: Small Boats (2007), appears within the piece as a ‘spirit guide’, making reference to the Spirit of Ecstasy, the ornament that adorns the bonnet of each Rolls-Royce motor car. As if sleepwalking, Myrie takes the viewer on a mesmerising journey across a symbolic landscape of glaciers, rocks and black volcanic sands, all glistening like diamonds. Julien uses this to remind us not only of the earth’s fragility – the melting of the glacier which carves out these caves – but also that some of the most beautiful objects are the least precious in a conventional sense.

The work will be shown within the landmark Jewel Box at the National YoungArts Foundation campus in Miami. The Jewel Box, designed by Ignacio Carrera-Justiz in 1973, features an exterior covered in thick hammered stained glass ‘tapestries,’ and is based on an abstract painting by German artist Johannes Dietz.

The National YoungArts Foundation, identifies and supports the next generation of artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts; assists them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development; and raises appreciation for the arts in American society. YoungArts has been a partner of Rolls-Royce NA since 2014.

Originally shown as a preview during the 56th edition of La Biennale di Venezia, the film installation had its public debut during Art Basel in Basel 2015 before being shown at The Home of Rolls-Royce in Goodwood, England.

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