Isaac Julien: Playtime at Metro Pictures.

Metro pictures is showing a film consisting of 3 chapters entitled Playtime. The show will run through the 14th of December.  

The gallery consists of still photographs from the film and a large screen in the back showing the work itself. Playtime shows three different stories about the same subject – capitol. Starting in London, then Reykjavík, then Dubai. Each of these cities have been transformed by the new nature of what we call capitalism in the 21st century. The idea of the piece was to start a conversation, so the opinions that I came away from the film with are reflected below. It is impossible to do a non passionate review of the subjects tackled in the work.



In Dubai we see a maid. She is cleaning in a stark, black apartment for a mistress who is not home. She is a virtual slave, making only enough money to send back to her children in the Philippines. This, as all of the chapters are, is true. Through a series of landscapes we see Dubai, a huge circle of shining skyscrapers in the middle of the desert. Dubai is an example of a city made for the rich. No road leads out, and the poor have no paved roads at all. This chapter focuses on the desperation of the maid, a chattel to clean.


Shelly tells a story of a man who, walking in the desert, comes across a ruined statue. A gigantic foot sits broken and worn on a pedestal. The inscription reads: “I am Ozymandias king of kings, look upon my works ye mighty and tremble”. The ruling class of Dubai would do well to mark that. The Burj Khalifa rises out of the city shining light on all those too poor to enter it's doors.


Dubai is a testament to man's hubris and should be burned to the ground. Let the desert swallow those who flaunt their ill gotten gains, as it has been done so many times before.


The next chapter, Reykjavik, is silent. A man framed in different situations, looking out at the sky, the steam and the frozen peaks. There is a bleakness of winter, a blue shade. This chapter is the most cleanly presented. The lines are straight, the shadows are angular. Iceland was the city where the financial collapse first happened, and this film presents it as a battleground where a war has long been over. In contrast to Dubai, the government of Iceland is answerable to the people. Iceland, faced with austerity and cuts  in order to pay back their debt, held a referendum and decided not to pay. After being in the awful D rating for default, it has moved back up. Iceland is now prospering while Greece and Spain burn in austerity. It is appropriate that this film is silent – simply now an observer.

Iceland is a testament to a sensible government and should be copied the world over.

London is the next chapter and James Franco walks us through an room of art work.  He explains that art is now being looked at as an investment, something else to buy and trade. London's banks have been deregulated and the capitalist's values are arbitrary. One painting, Franco says, was bought for 2 million dollars then sold for 30 million dollars 2 years later. Pleasure is the reason people do anything, so that is why the rich buy art. Pleasure from the status it gives them, pleasure from the aesthetics, pleasure from the history of the work, pleasure from the exclusivity, pleasure from extravagant spending. Franco assures us all that these are valid reasons to spend money.


Art is not a commodity to be bought and sold like shiny rocks, art is not an arbitrary number on a computer screen that we call currency. There is no way to realistically calculate the value of art. Art, uniquely, has no inherent value; that is part of what makes it art – all art is quite useless. The bankers in London hungrily eye the next thing they can put value into and hoard in massive quantities away from the prying eyes of the rest of us.


London's wealth is an illusion created by intangible assets with erratic and offhand values.


The film asks unanswerable questions that require an essay into themselves, for our purposes today it was a success.


Text by John Hutt

Photographs by Tanya Kiseleva


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