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‘Ten Thousand Waves’ Video Installation At MoMA Explores Tragic Drowning

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During the holiday season much of the city is lit up. A new installation at MoMA lights up the atrium, but it is part celebration, part memorial. Stephanie Simon filed the following report.

There's a certain hypnotic affect that happens when viewing the film installation, Ten Thousand Waves, at MoMA.

A piece by British artist Isaac Julien thrashes you about like a tidal wave, oscillating between the sublime and the tragic. The work was inspired by true events, more than 20 Chinese immigrants who drowned off the coast of England while fishing for cockles in 2004.

“To make a work that would be a kind of form of reparation, memorialization and in this piece, to me, it’s very important or fitting that we have this space to be able to show this story on nine screens,” said artist Isaac Julien.

The film includes several vignettes, including a more ethereal folk tale of the Chinese fishing goddess Mazu and other images of Chinese culture, past and present.

“It’s a work that plays with moving image, with cinema, in the realm of fine arts,” said curator Martin Hartung.

Julien says he's most excited to show “Waves” here because New York is a city of immigrants.

“There is way in which New York, it doesn’t judge people because they came from elsewhere. So I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what the New York response is to this work,” Julien said.

“Ten Thousand Waves” has been shown many times since its debut in 2010, but the one at MoMA is by far the most ambitious with screens and speakers on multiple levels and multiple vantage points.

Adding to that, and to the sense that Julien is definitely having his New York moment, his film “Playtime” about art and commerce is showing at The Metro Pictures gallery in Chelsea. The film is also showing on several screens in Times Square as part of the Midnight Moment, at 11:57 p.m. each night in December.

Metro Pictures is located at 519 West 24th Street in Manhattan, 212-206-7100. For more information, go to

For more information on Times Square’s Midnight Moment, go to

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