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Isaac Julien Explores the Beauty of Ice Caves and Architecture in Latest Installation

The shoot took place over five days with the crew enduring sub-zero temperatures deep in the heart of Iceland's spectacular glacial caves.

Multimedia artist Isaac Julien’s new work Stones Against Diamonds, commissioned as part of the Rolls‑Royce Art Programme, draws inspiration from a letter written by Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. Stones Against Diamonds examines themes within her letter, where she praises the beauty of natural elements over preferred precious stones. Filming the work in remote Vatnajökull region, in South East Iceland, using the breathtaking scenery of glistening ice caves as a set for the film, Julien portrays some of the most beautiful objects as the least precious in a conventional sense.

The shoot took place over five days with the crew enduring sub-zero temperatures deep in the heart of spectacular glacial caves, formed in ice over thousands of years and accessible for only a few days a year due to the harsh climate. Signature elements of Bo Bardi’s work have been incorporated into Julien’s work, including a staircase, meticulously built by hand in the ice cave during the production of the film. A larger version of the staircase was recreated during post-production before being merged, using CGI, replicating Bo Bardi’s famed spiral staircase.

Julien also incorporates Bo Bardi’s signature easels in his film, made of glass and concrete, two elements present in the majority of her work. The installation will use multiple screens positioned to draw direct comparison with Bo Bardi’s work. Stones Against Diamonds will be shown on a loop, repeated five times within the hour across the ten screens, each time varying slightly to add an element of surprise for the viewer.

Says Julien, “The cave can be read as a metaphor of the unconscious, a place of rich beauty but difficult to access except through the processes of psychoanalysis and artistic reflection. By inserting some of Bo Bardi’s emblematic architectural elements in the cave, such as her iconic spiral staircase and glass easels, I hope to make a connection between her work and these organic aspects, the stones and the carved glacial ice, the simplicity of forms that was one of Lina’s signatures.”

The work will be shown at Art Basel in Basel next week from June 16th-17th. It premiered at the Venice Biennale last month.