BMW Tate Live: Charles Atlas

This piece, based on an interview with Charles Atlas, appeared in Flash Art:

Charles Atlas, Fractions (1), 1978. Video, color and b&w, sound 32 Mins 59 Secs. Collaboration with Merce Cunningham. Courtesy Vilma Gold, London.

 

Programmed as part of the “Performance Events” strand of the four-year BMW Tate Live series, now in its second year, Charles Atlas’s nine-channel video installation MC9 (2012) and live multimedia collaborations with the dancer and choreographer duo Ce­cilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud, based in Paris, and with performance artist Johanna Constantine from New York, were the last performances to be staged in the Tanks for some time. (They will not reopen until 2016,  the date set for the completion of Tate Mod­ern 2.) The inaugural run of what’s billed as the first museum space “permanently dedi­cated to live art” ended on a high note with riveting, if more or less polished, performance works that illustrated both the virtues and the limits of experimentation.

 

Reconfigured for gallery viewing and tai­lored to the round space of the Tanks, the work is titled MC9 in tribute to the late Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) with whom Atlas made some forty films in as many years, ex­cerpts from which were shown on large- to medium-sized screens as well as monitors during the museum’s opening hours. On two separate evenings, the same elaborate set-up was used to screen Atlas’s own heady mix of live visuals. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Atlas, “a live performance with so many screens that could be seen at once and with live dancers.” Open rehearsals had been initially scheduled, in a bid to bring the public closer to the making process, but the performers proved less than willing to lend themselves to the experiment.

 

Live performance events at the Tate will revert to their prior nomadic practice now that the Tanks are about to be temporarily closed. Meanwhile, artists will continue to explore the possibilities of the live digital space launched in March 2012 in a separate BMW Tate Live strand. The next “Performance Room” event, broadcast live on Tate’s YouTube channel on May 16, will involve a DJ mixing up Chinese music with theoretical texts about Chinese avant-garde art, alongside facsimile reproduc­tions of objects from the collection made by Chinese artist Liu Ding. According to curator Catherine Wood, the work intends to probe “ideas of value in the Western canon embod­ied in somewhere like the Tate.

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