The Role of Capitalism

Inflation has peaked, reaching its highest level in the past four decades. According to the Office for National Statistics, in March 2023, the annual price of all goods escalated to 10.1%. Meanwhile, in recession of 2008, this increase topped at 3.8%. In April 2023, BBC reported that we pay 42.1% more for sugar, whilst milk costs 38.8% more than it did in 2022. It is anticipated that global economic growth will remain static until 2025.

In response to the financial crisis of 2008, Isaac Julien (b. 1963) released Playtime in 2013, which even a decade later is timely and significant. The film poses the question; how can financial capital be visualised? Since he began making films in 1983 by founding the Sankofa Film and Video Collective, Julien has become one of the most compelling artist filmmakers working today. Through a wide range of feature films, meditative documentaries and installations, he has consistently traversed challenging subject matter such as the economy, homophobia, migration, racism and representation. 

Playtime (2013) is a multi-screen film installation that explores the intersections of class, gender and race in contemporary society. The film follows the lives of several characters, including an art dealer, artist, auctioneer, two hedge fund managers, journalist and maid. The stories are interwoven with scenes of London’s financial district and other urban landscapes, which comments on the role of capitalism and technology in present-day society.  

Julien surveys themes of power, identity and surveillance. He asks questions about who has access to power and how it is maintained, as well as how technology is foregrounding our identities and relationships. The film also looks at the impact that racism and discrimination have on individuals and communities. One of the most remarkable aspects of the film is the use of sound and music. The score, by David G McFarlane, incorporates classical, electronic and jazz elements, which creates a sense of urgency and tension. This underscores Playtime’s exploration of power and social inequality.

Overall, Playtime is a thought-provoking and visually arresting work that engages with some of the most pressing issues of our time. It is challenging viewers to thinking critically about the world in which we live and what role, as individuals, we can play in shaping the future. Although, the work is 10 years old, it is now more relevant than ever before.

Isaac Julien: Playtime, PalaisPopulaire, Berlin | Until 10 July.

Words: Fruzsina Vida

Image credits:
1.Isaac Julien: Eclipse (Playtime), 2013. Endura Ultra Photograph  Ed. 1/6160 x 240 x 7,50 cm © Isaac Julien, Courtesy: Sammlung Wemhöner  
2.Isaac Julien: Horizon / Elsewhere (Playtime), 2013. Endura Ultra Photograph  Ed. 1/6160 x 240 x 7,50 cm © Isaac Julien, Courtesy: Sammlung Wemhöner 
3. Isaac Julien: Altar (Playtime), 2013. Endura Ultra Photograph  Ed. 1/6160 x 240 x 7,50 cm © Isaac Julien, Courtesy: Sammlung Wemhöner