Charles Atlas: Glacier
25 January - 31 March 2013
Review by Rebecca Newell
Finsbury Circus seems a strange place for an art exhibition. In the beating heart of London’s financial quarter, it is all suits and sandwich lunches, with the immaculately maintained Lawn Bowls Club in the centre and the beginnings of Crossrail here and there. Inside any of the buildings around the architecturally impressive square, you are most likely to encounter escalators, stairs and meeting areas strategically placed to foster connectivity, innovation and enterprise. It is a succinct expression of the unique, joined up way in which the Corporation runs the City of London.
The elliptical nature of this London plaza is reflected by the open, circularly-negotiable environment of the Bloomberg Space, within the Bloomberg L.P. complex. The gallery, it is claimed, is not a conventional corporate art collection, but an arena where artists and audiences can interact, form dialogue, converse. In fact, in the last decade it has played host to some 500 artistic conversations, including exhibitions, collaborations and commissions. It is driven by philanthropy, and in that sense makes no secret of its roots across the pond; Bloomberg’s central office is in New York. The results of such conversations apparently fund education and literacy programmes, health and medical research, social work, arts and culture, public parks and environmental initiatives: commendable enough. There are fingers in London pies too, thinking of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA, the Bloomberg Commission at the Whitechapel Gallery and the Bloomberg Broadcast Volunteer programme at the Camden Roundhouse, to name three. The point perhaps, is that they go further and tread more meaningfully than some. The interesting, recently acquired Tobias Rehberger atrium piece is a good example of that.
The latest offering at the Bloomberg Space, in collaboration with the South London Gallery, is aptly named. ‘Glacier’, by Charles Atlas, is rhythmic, pervasive, moving, immersive, distant and cool. Through a double black curtain, the darkened gallery space is used as a multi-surface screen. A 360 degree projection of original, modified and archival footage (some from the Bloomberg collection) scrolls over the walls and windows of the Finsbury Circus gallery. Large, brightly-coloured vertical bars appear and fade, and then are replaced with bustling crowds, factory conveyor belts and scenes of public transport; these crowds are replaced with images of hot clay, paint and molten rock, liquid and pulsing. The walls throb with inward and then outward motion; in turn the soundscape varies between long, dull notes and higher-frequency buzzing. The scenes are long and mesmerising, and then at once short and fleeting, meaning that the viewer alternates between reflective and claustrophobic responses. The cyclical projection asks the viewer to turn around to follow it, aping your journey around Finsbury Circus to get to the space.
Atlas, born 1949, is an important interpreter of dance, theatre and performance on video and has collaborated widely, notably with Michael Clark and currently, with Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons. What is important for this exhibition is Atlas’ grasp of inward and outward looking; the best moment of the film loop is when the walls fill with images of Finsbury Circus. On one side, a girl leans inwards, as though propped against the picture plane - suddenly, the room becomes a glass box, at once a transparent viewing platform and a bell jar.
The South London Gallery brings to any collaborative partnership an international reputation for its programme of contemporary art exhibitions and live art events. It also consistently builds on its century-old founding principle that it should be a gallery ‘for the people’, and continues to foster a loyal, creative following who call South London their home and who would be willing to make the trip north of the river to witness a conversation in which SLG are involved. The reflection of this new trend in the wider field of contemporary art is part of an informed pattern of working for the Bloomberg Space, and manifests as a sincere and thoughtful vein of exhibition-making and an interesting and immersive exhibition experience.