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Charles Atlas is a pioneering figure in film and video. Since the mid-1970s his experimental films, documentaries, broadcast works, multichannel installations, and live electronic performances have innovatively defined their mediums. A central aspect of his artistic practice has been deep collaborative relationships, particularly with performing artists such as Leigh Bowery, Michael Clark, Douglas Dunn, Yvonne Rainer, Mika Tajima and the New Humans, and many others. In his own words, “Although I have a deep interest in form and craft, the essence of my work resides ultimately in the relationships that develop with my subjects and my collaborators.”
Over the past decade, Atlas has become increasingly interested in live video improvisation: composing, editing, and projecting in real time. From April 18 through 22, he will present an unfolding, weeklong live video environment punctuated by live performances with experimental musician William Basinski—whose haunting compositions often involve found and electronic sounds, repetitive loops, and documenting the aural disintegration of his earlier recordings on audio tape—and performance artist Johanna Constantine.
Although he has worked with many noteworthy dancers and choreographers, Atlas has had a particularly strong relationship with Merce Cunningham (1919–2009), serving first as his filmmaker-in-residence for ten years (1974–83) and then continuing to document Cunningham’s dances through the remainder of his career. Atlas’s unique artistic vision for capturing dance on camera has created new and original experiences out of this notoriously difficult task.
In September 2008, Cunningham staged Ocean (1994), one of the most ambitious works of his legendary sixty-year career, at the bottom of the massive Rainbow Granite Quarry in Minnesota. The event was seen by 4,500 audience members and featured the dancers and musicians of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, along with a 150-piece orchestra. Using a five-camera crew, Atlas filmed three performances of this epic production which he then edited into a single film. Atlas’s films stand as the final living record of many of Cunningham’s seminal works, and the feature-length Ocean marks his final Cunningham project. Ocean will be screened April 11 through 15.
Charles Atlas’s work is being screened in the Museum’s fourth floor galleries April 11 through 15. He is in residence in the Museum’s fourth floor galleries April 18 through 22.