The Curtain Call

Summer tends to be a time of spectacle in London – massive installations, blockbuster shows, international festivals and grand theatrical events. With smaller galleries closed and many leaving for a break from the claustrophobic city and intellectual rigour, the spectacle is relied upon to attract the attention of the audience who remain.

Israeli designer Ron Arad’s massive undertaking at the Roundhouse, aptly titled Curtain Call, is at the height of the spectacular – a three-storey high circular curtain comprised of glowing amoeba-like silicon tubing which serves as fluid canvas for artists to work with. With a transparent sheath, the 360 degree screen, onto which videos are looped, can be viewed from the outside – but most do choose to push aside the swaying curtain and experience the work from within.

Ron Arad, Curtain Call, 2011. Installation at the Roundhouse. Credit Stephen White.

It is a stunning architectural structure – technologically magnificent and psychologically affective due to its vast size – but it is void of any prolonged engagement. However, it is interesting to see how artists have used this unique backdrop and translated their work through it. Shape and scale take front row here – the directionless circular structure of the screen requires a rethinking of the linear quality of video, and the enormous size forces the viewer into a land of giants.

Mat Collishaw, still image from Sordid Earth, 2011. Image courtesy of the Artist.

Mat Collishaw’s video Sordid Earth immerses you in an apocalyptic world of desire and decay. A digitally rendered vision of a dystopic future where decrepit, insect-ridden flowers blossom and dissolve amongst violent storms and unstoppable waterfalls. Collishaw’s world imperceptibly rotates around you, in a continuous cycle of life and death without a trace of human presence, making our microscopic existence disappear into nothingness.

David Shrigley, still image from Walker, 2011. Image courtesy of the Artist.

In David Shrigley’s animation Walker, a blank-eyed, hairy patched man wearing nothing but a pair of heavy boots stomps slowly around the circle with great effort, pausing only to grunt and groan. Translating Shrigley’s caustic depictions of flat, trivial characters onto a larger than life screen serves to intensify the acidic humour ever present in his works and give Shrigley’s ‘outsider art’ further dimension.

Christian Marclay, Pianorama in Ron Arad, Curtain Call, 2011. Image credit Stephen White.

The golden boy of Venice, Christian Marclay, has joined forced with experimental jazz pianist and often-collaborative partner, Steve Beresford to create Pianorama – an surround sound piano which Beresford appears to play from all angles. Marclay’s interest in music and splicing of video fragments are extended here into an endless instrument, surrealistically played by a multitude of giant hands reaching around you.

Ori Gersht, still from Offering, 2011. Image courtesy of the Artist.

In Ori Gersht’s Offering, the structure is exploited not only for its formal qualities, but is used as an integral part of the thematic approach of the work. A man begins to dress in a room, but it only slowly becomes clear what he is preparing for. His audience emerges on the opposite site, waiting in anticipation. We have entered a bullring, exposed to the intimate, individualistic side, removed from  the bloodshed and controversy – instead looking at the delicate preparations and directly into the eyes of the supporters who solemnly wait.

Ori Gersht, still from Offering, 2011. Image courtesy of the Artist.

How do you break down the linear structure of video and work with a screen that has no beginning and no end? With light, sound and video, these artists have used a giant canvas to explore and extend facets of their work – the dark, the humourous, the surrealist and the controversial – all within a great spectacle.