True North is meditative and comprises reflective images of the sublime, and, like Julien's accompanying piece, Paradise Omeros, uses the landscape as a key location and theme. Loosely inspired by the story of the black American explorer, Matthew Henson (1866-1955) who accompanied Robert Peary and was one of the first people to reach the North Pole, later writing an account of his experience. In this fragmented narrative, Julien contemplates on ideas and histories of the hierarchical as well as in the struggling figure we find a succinct metaphor of endless traversing, symbolising the voyage of the modern that has to be experienced by others. The installation offers a fascinating new visual reading of space and time and its relation to counter histories. Here, the sublime moment of cognition of the image is presented to the mind which, in turn, can only comprehend the absolute of magnitude which itself defies conceptualisation. The installation contests binaries which are present in many notations of the expedition and of adventure that clutter the history of discovery—here reason, order and stability are replaced by irrational meanderings, symbolic gestures from shamanistic tropes and the constant seeping inertia of the ice.
Isaac Julien was visiting lecturer at Harvard University's Schools of Afro-American and Visual Environmental Studies and is currently a visiting professor at the Whitney Museum of American Arts and the University of Arts, Hamburg. He was also a research fellow at Goldsmiths College, University of London and is a Trustee of the Serpentine Gallery. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 and was the recipient of both the prestigious MIT Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts (2001) and the Frameline Lifetime Achievement Award (2002).
His work Paradise Omeros was presented as part of Documenta XI in Kassel (2002). In 2003 he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunstfilm Biennale in Cologne for his single screen version of Baltimore and the Aurora Award in 2005. Most recently, he has had solo exhibitions at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (2005), the Museum of Contemporary Art Miami (2005) and the Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover (2006). Julien is represented in the collections of the Tate Modern (London), the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Guggenheim (New York) and the Hirshhorn (Washington).
Julien’s film installation, Baltimore (2003), was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2006/2007 as part of the Centre Pompidou Video Art 1965-2005 exhibition, which travels to ACMI Melbourne, 22 March – 27 May 2007. In March 2007, the three-channel installation of True North will be exhibited in Turbulence: the 3rd Auckland Triennial in New Zealand, curated by Victoria Lynn. True North is Isaac Julien’s first exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and his first commercial exhibition in Australia.