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Vilma Gold are delighted to present a solo exhibition of works by the American artist Charles Atlas (b.1949), comprising a new three-channel projected video, No Safety in Numbers (2011), and an ambitious multi-channel video installation, Joints 4tet for Ensemble (1971 - 2010).
In the show Atlas meditates on his career now spanning over forty years. He takes as his point of departure an imagined future viewpoint from which his past work - and by extension his past self - are regarded and vice-versa. In his new work Atlas seeks to explore how points of perspective, both imagined and real, may influence present ideas; he considers how past and future poles may be inter-related, or how they are activated as they inhabit one another in the present.
In the first part of the exhibition Atlas will project a new three-channel video, No Safety in Numbers. Rendered digitally and comprised of tides of fast-flowing numbers, the video recalls the dramatic space of the movie theatre, or a filmic sky at night. With the film projected from three perpendicular positions, it transforms the space as it overwhelms it. Streams of numbers feed in to a central vortex between two opposing gallery walls. Their movement sets the space in motion around the figure of the viewer. In so doing Atlas nods to (and also inverts) his experience of recording dancers moving around the space of the studio. As a filmmaker, Atlas has spent many hours sequencing frames using time code. He is interested in the precision that a time code suggests, particularly in relation to the malleability of images. Here the numbers themselves appear to be random, and though their choreography is sequenced, it is not predictable. The idea of surprise is in fact key to Atlas’s thinking; he uses this tension to negotiate how time works as a medium, and how it may expand and contract in relation to perceptions of chaos and order.
In the second room of the exhibition Atlas will present Joints 4tet for Ensemble (1971-2010), an installation of Super-8 colour films of the dancer Merce Cunningham shot by Atlas in 1971. One afternoon, after rehearsal in Irvine, California, Merce Cunningham and Charles Atlas went out of the back door of the dance studio to a raised concrete dock and started to film. As Cunningham articulated his joints in a minimal dance Atlas filmed in a variety of ways with his new Super-8 camera, shooting close-ups of Cunningham’s wrist, elbow, ankle, and knee. The films capture Cunningham’s unique style of movement. Atlas experimented with different frame rates and levels of blur, but mainly focused on following Cunningham’s moving joints as if carefully observing a strange animal. Atlas cannot entirely recall all the circumstances surrounding the filming, only that it was purely experimental. The artists made nine short films in total, most of which were extended continuous hand-held shots.
For the installation Joints 4tet for Ensemble, Atlas brings the resulting films together for the first time, editing the material into four channels of synchronized video and showing them across a choreographed arrangement of ten different sized monitors; some placed on mono-stands, some on rolling carts, and others grouped in pairs. With this configuration of monitors Atlas harks back to ideas first used in 1978 in the creation of Fractions I and Fractions II; a video/dance collaboration he made with Cunningham. Each monitor is orchestrated to broadcast the observation of an autonomous trail within the overall choreography of the group; reflecting Atlas’ ongoing interest in tracking the movement of dancers in and around a studio. The visual elements of Joints 4tet for Ensemble are accompanied by four channels of collaged sound. These are reworkings of ambient sound recordings made by John Cage in the 1980s whilst on his travels to cities around the world with his long-term partner Merce Cuningham. As the sound plays out across the monitors, projection lamps cast multiple and shifting shadows over the surrounding walls of the installation.
Charles Atlas (born Missouri, 1949) is an artist living and working in New York. In 2006 Tate Modern, London presented the first UK survey of work by Atlas and he has had retrospectives at: Whitney Museum of Art, New York; Magazin 4, Bregenz; ICA Boston; and Participant Inc., New York. In 2010 Atlas had screenings at: Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London; MOMA, New York; and Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis. Group exhibitions for Atlas in 2010 included: Hayward Gallery, London; ICA Philadephia (touring to Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston); MIT/LIST Visual Art Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Kunst- verein Nürnberg, Nürnberg; De Hallen Haarlem, The Netherlands; PS1, New York (touring to Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, Moscow) and KAde Kunsthal in Amersfoort. In April 2011 Atlas will have a major collaborative exhibition with Mika Tajima and New Humans at the South London Gallery, London.