Isaac Julien, The North Star (Lessons of the Hour), 2019, framed photograph on gloss inkjet paper mounted on aluminum. 160 x 213.29 cm; 63 x 84 in. Courtesy of the artist and: Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Isaac Julien, The North Star (Lessons of the Hour), 2019, framed photograph on gloss inkjet paper mounted on aluminum, 63 x 84 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Exhibition

Lessons of the Hour

Lessons of the Hour is an immersive, meditative film portrait of Frederick Douglass by British filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien.

Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass (2019) explores the life of the visionary Black writer, abolitionist, statesman, and freed slave. Incorporating excerpts from Douglass’ speeches and dramatizations of his private and public milieus, the immersive ten-screen film installation offers a contemplative, poetic journey into Douglass’ zeitgeist and a forceful suggestion that the lessons of the abolitionist’s hour have yet to be learned. The installation is joined by Julien’s tintype portraits and mise-en-scènes photographs of the film’s subjects. When Living is a Protest, a complementary exhibition of modern and contemporary photography from the McEvoy Family Collection curated by Mark Nash, celebrates both past and continuing struggles for civil rights in the United States.

ABOUT THE INSTALLATION

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) is a pivotal figure in the history of abolitionism and social reform in the United States who delivered anti-slavery campaigns across the northern United States and the United Kingdom. The most photographed American of the nineteenth-century, Douglass argued that the photographic portrait could elevate the whole of a human being, without caricature or defaming the subject.

Working with the scholar Celeste-Marie Bernier on the film’s narration, Julien constructs “tableaux vivants” that realize Douglass (portrayed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Ray Fearon) as the professional orator, the photography advocate, and the man affirming his struggle for equality as a global citizen. The film details relationships to the influential women and men in his life, among them Anna Murray and Helen Pitts, his first and second wives; the suffragist Susan B. Anthony; feminist activist and translator Ottilie Assing; and J.P. Ball, a pioneering African American photographer. Included as representatives of certain ideals of equality, the histories of these figures offer an intersectional approach to the struggle for racial justice and human rights.

Lessons of the Hour‘s narrative unfolds across multiple screens of different sizes, hung salon-style, to create what Julien describes as a “moving image montage.” Its presentation not only echoes the picture-hanging conventions of the era but allows the artist and viewer to draw connections between many images at once, horizontally. Julien filmed Lessons at sites that hold historical significance to the abolitionist’s life, including The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., where he lived later in his life, and in the United Kingdom, where Douglass delivered over 300 anti-slavery speeches.

Isaac Julien’s pioneering artistic practice incorporates the moving image, photography, and installation to create open-ended narratives that invite spectators to actively interpret the work through a physical and sensorial immersion. Acclaimed for his ability to create space in his installations for reflection on global forces shaping history and culture, Julien has produced monumental works on subjects ranging from Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance (Looking for Langston, 1989) and relationships between art and capital (Playtime, 2014) to the iconic architect Lina Bo Bardi (A Marvellous Entanglement, 2019).

New Labor Movements, a resonant original program of film and video shorts curated by Leila Weefur and concurrently on view, explores contemporary visions of America and concepts of transnational Blackness. A series of online conversations with these artists and invited thinkers and scholars take place throughout the run of the exhibition.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Isaac Julien, CBE RA (b. 1960) is an artist, filmmaker, and educator whose multi-screen film installations and photographs incorporate different artistic disciplines to create a poetic and unique visual language. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark; The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; MAC Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the De Pont Museum, Netherlands; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Pompidou Centre Paris; and MoCA Miami. He has exhibited at the La Biennale de Venezia, Johannesburg Biennale, Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, and Shanghai Biennale. Julien is the recipient of The Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award 2017 and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2017. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of the Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is developing the Isaac Julien Lab. He lives and works in London and Santa Cruz.

RELATED NEWS
In the News / Artforum

Subject Lessons: Ciarán Finlayson on Isaac Julien’s “Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass”

May 6, 2019 Read More
In the News / Royal Academy of Arts

“There’s a conversation that’s gone wrong, that hasn’t been listened to.”

Jun 18, 2020 Read More
FILM CREDITS

CAST

RAY FEARON—Frederick Douglass
SHARLENE WHYTE—Anna Murray Douglass
JOAN IYIOLA—Rosetta Douglass (character)
UKWELI ROACH—James Presley Ball
AMANDA LAWRENCE—Susan B Anthony
CARA HORGAN—Ottilie Assing
CHARLOTTE EMMERSON—Helen Pitts Douglass
VALERIE EDMOND—Anna Richardson
CLARE YUILE—Ellen Richardson
VANESSA MYRIE—Patron in photographic salon
PAUL GLADSTONE REID—Gentleman in salon
JAMES KEITH—Gentleman in salon
JOHN WILSON—Gentleman in train
MIKAEL OLSSON—Gentleman in train
NICK HORWOOD—Gentleman in photographic studio
PAUL JORDAN—Gentleman in photographic studio

ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS

Christopher Le Brun—President, Royal Academy of Arts
Anne Desmet—Artist and Royal Academician
Candida Gertler OBE—Director – Outset
Catherine Hall—Emerita – Professor of History – UCL
Mark Nash—Curator
Humphrey Ocean—Artist and Royal Academician
David Remfry—Artist and Royal Academician
Irit Rogoff—Professor of Visual Culture – Goldsmiths
Janet and Bruce Flohr—Hare & Hound Press
Andrew Barker—Audience Member
Vince Bishop—Audience Member
David Bloomfield—Audience Member
Andre Bottin—Audience Member
Glenn Scott-Wright—Director – Victoria Miro Gallery
Tanya Scott-Wright—Audience Member
Rebecca Salter—Artist and Royal Academician
Richard Allen—Audience Member
Steve Box—Audience Member
Soraya Boyd—Audience Member
Sue Burgess—Audience Member
Richard Cannon—Audience Member
Kelvyn Cantwell—Audience Member
Pamela Cooper—Audience Member
Rod Ferrell—Audience Member
Cora Gilroy Ware—Audience Member
Saiward Green—Audience Member
Lyn Gumm—Audience Member
Richard Gumm—Audience Member
Rajesh Kalhan—Audience Member
Morteza Khodabakhsh—Audience Member
Jag Patel—Audience Member
Michael Tavernier—Audience Member
Myo Zeyaoo—Audience Member

CREW

PRODUCER – Angie Daniell
PRODUCER – Maggie Still
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Nina Kellgren BSC
EDITOR – Adam Finch
PRODUCTION DESIGNER – Derek Brown
COSTUME DESIGNER – Annie Symons
MUSIC COMPOSER – Paul Gladstone-Reid
COLORIST – Thomas Urbye
SOUND DESIGN – Andy Cowton
RE-RECORDING MIXER – Karl Mainzer
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR – Rafaela Mendes Ferreira
CASTING DIRECTOR – Gary Davy
HISTORICAL CONSULTANT – Celeste-Marie Bernier
ARCHIVE PRODUCER – Matthew Sanger
ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT – Ruthie Falconer
ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT – Louis Ruscombe King
DAGUERROTYPE CURATOR – Polly Fleury
DAGUERROTYPE CURATOR – Ella Naef
CALLIGRAPHY CONSULTANT – Deborah Hammond
1st ASSISTANT DIRECTOR – EDINBURGH Rory Stewart
2nd ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Daisy Caton-Jones
3rd ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Annie Le Gresley
3rd ASSISTANT DIRECTOR – EDINBURGH – Elena Lerones
FLOOR RUNNER – Jess Simmonds
FLOOR RUNNER – Tom Medcalf
FLOOR RUNNER – Gareth Evans
FLOOR RUNNER – EDINBURGH – Alex Peacock
LINE PRODUCER – EDINBURGH – Philippa Atterton
LOCATION MANGER – EDINBURGH – Cindy Thompson
UNIT MANAGER – EDINBURGH – Chris Cameron
ASSISTANT LOCATION MANAGER – LONDON James Struthers
TRINITY OPERATOR – Charlie Rizek
TRINITY ASSISTANT – Iliya Majer
STEADICAM OPERATOR – Tom Wilkinson
CAMERA OPERATOR – Simona Susnea
1st ASSISTANT CAMERA – Jake Marcuson
2nd ASSISTANT CAMERA – Tom Lane
2nd ASSISTANT CAMERA – Cristina Cretu
2nd ASSISTANT CAMERA – Matt Wright
CAMERA TRAINEE – Nichola Pan Hao
CAMERA TRAINEE – Sam Rhys James
DIT – Dan Alexander
DIT – EDINBURGH – Marc Campbell
GRIP – Adrian Barry
GRIP EDINBURGH – Dave Clarke
GRIP TRAINEE – Adam Zimmerman
GRIP TRAINEE – Spencer Butcher
CAMERA TRUCK DRIVER – Arthur Clarke
PHOTOGRAPHER AND TINTYPE SPECIALIST – Rob Ball
STILLS AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE – Laurence Cendrowicz
STILLS AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE – Ludovic Robert
STILLS AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE – Chris King
SOUND RECORDIST – LONDON – Paddy Boland
SOUND RECORDIST – EDINBURGH – Douglas Fairgrieve
VOICE COACH – Ricky Lipman
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Josie Gilbert
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Pauline Besnier
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Nina Bertolone
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Teddy George-Poku
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Lee Yaroshevski
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Adam Redmore
COSTUME ASSISTANT – EDINBURGH – Robyn Morell
COSTUME ASSISTANT – EDINBURGH – Claire Lester
COSTUME TRAINEE – Jade Guims
MAKE-UP DESIGNER – Sharon Martin
MAKE UP SUPERVISOR – Tamara Crockett
MAKE-UP ARTIST – Andrea Cracknell
MAKE-UP ARTIST – Tiffanne Williams
MAKE-UP ARTIST – Naomie Spurr
MAKE-UP ARTIST – Tammy Harewood
MAKE-UP ARTIST – Pascale Recher
MAKE-UP ARTIST – Magdalena Surma
MAKE-UP ASSISTANT – EDINBURGH – Clare McAndrew
GAFFER – Bill Rae Smith
GAFFER – Sam Alberg
ELECTRICIAN – Kit Wood
ELECTRICIAN – Chris Broomfield
ELECTRICIAN – Seb Lamb
ELECTRICIAN – Caspar Jones
ELECTRICIAN – Alex Edyvean
ELECTRICIAN – Callum Crisell
ELECTRICIAN – Adam Bell
ELECTRICIAN – EDINBURGH – Lenny Obrian

WASHINGTON, D.C.

STEADICAM OPERATOR – Tom Wilkinson
CAMERA OPERATOR – Dennis Boni
1st ASSISTANT CAMERA – Andy Kuester
DIT – Ryan Romketma
GAFFER – Donny Aros
BEST BOY ELECTRIC – Steve Seitz
KEY GRIP – Carl Hamilton
BEST BOY GRIP – Kenny Harris
GENERATOR OPERATOR – Mike Wilson
GRIP – Daniela Mileykovsky
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT – Camille Toussaint
PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT – Rachel Cunningham
POST-PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR – Vanessa Myrie
POST-PRODUCTION COORDINATOR – Manon Schwich (Isaac Julien Studio)
GRADING & ONLINE SUITE – The Look
ONLINE EDITOR – Mark Maltby
SENIOR PRODUCER – Dan Marbrook
CONFORM EDITOR – Grace Weston
CONFORM ASSISTANT – Tom Large
POST-PRODUCTION COORDINATOR – Barney Arathoon
VISUAL EFFECTS – Dupe VFX
VISUAL EFFECTS PRODUCER – Rachel Webb
VISUAL EFFECTS COORDINATOR – Marta Carceres
LEAD COMPOSITOR – Matt Cameron
COMPOSITORS – Ines Boneca, Yordan Ivanov, Matthieu Sinisi
SOUND STUDIO – Halo Post-Production
RE-RECORDING MIXER – Rowan Jennings
TRACK LAY AND MIX – Steve Single
SOUND EFFECTS EDITOR – Alastair Sirkett
CAMERA EQUIPMENT – Arri Rental
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT – Panalux
EXHIBITION DESIGN – Tom Cullen
TECHNICAL MANAGER – Jorma Saarikko
AUDIOVISUAL TECHNICIAN – Eric Brun
EQUIPMENT – ProAV

Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass (2019) was originally commissioned by the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester in partnership with Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and with generous support from: Deborah Ronnen and Sherman Levey; Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss; the Zell Family; Lori Van Dusen; Ford Foundation; VIA Art Fund; Linda Pace Foundation; Carol Weinbaum and Outset Contemporary Art Fund / CAF Canada; and University of California Santa Cruz. Special thanks to Jessica Silverman, San Francisco; the McEvoy Family Collection; Metro Pictures, New York; Victoria Miro, London/Venice.

Generous production support is provided by Sky Hook Rigging. Additional support is provided by MacFadden & Thorpe, McCune Audio Video Lighting, Small Works SF, and ProAV. Media support provided by KQED.

Media Partner: frieze Magazine