Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1949, New York based artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas is a pioneer of dance, performance and theatre on video. With a career spanning four decades, whether his works manifest on screen, gallery floor, television or stage, collaboration is key to his practice.
He’s collaborated with leading artists, musicians, choreographers, performers and dancers, from Marina Abramovic, Michael Clark, Yvonne Rainer and Leigh Bowery to John Kelly, Diamanda Galás and Anthony and the Johnsons. From 1974 – 1983 Atlas worked as filmmaker-in-residence with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. American choreographer Mercier Philip Cunningham (1919-2009) was a seminal figure of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy-year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time.
Expanding the traditions of theatre, classical ballet and modern dance with constant experimentation and collaboration, Cunningham’s individualism lead him to radically rewrite the language by which the dancing body is interpreted and create a distinctive articulation of dance that is now his legacy. Atlas was one of the experimental filmmakers Cunningham came to work with following his early interest in integrating dance with video in the 1960s. Cunningham’s Variation V 1965 implemented projected film footage by Stan VanDerBeek and overlaid distorted TV images by Nam June Paik that coat the dancers.
Atlas first began working with Cunningham in 1971 and during their long-standing partnership together they worked on a series of ground breaking performances developed specifically for the two-dimensional space of the camera. Early video works such as Blue Studio: Five Segments 1975-76 and Channels/Inserts 1981 mark their unique collaboration. Atlas’s recently finished film Exchange 1978/2013 is based on the 1978 dance piece by Cunningham of the same title and uses previously unseen footage shot by Atlas in 1978. The footage was recently rediscovered by the Merce Cunningham Trust (MCT) and the film premiered at the Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) in New York in February 2013.
His primary work has been as a film director and video artist producing multi-channel video installations, documentaries, video dance works and art works for television - a selection of which were screened as part of the first UK retrospective survey show of his work Charles Atlas: Hail the New Puritan, Videos 1975-2005 held at Tate Modern in 2006. Since his collaboration with Cunningham in 1970s, Atlas has become a pioneer of exploring with innovation the encounter between the theatricality of dance and the temporal, intimate space of video.
My principle concerns and what I believe emerges in the creation of my works include (but are not limited to): truth to the situation/subject, precision, playfulness, reflection of contemporary life, color, multiplicity of meanings, and having fun. Collaboration then has always been central to my practice… As video technology has evolved, in 2003 I started to experiment with live electronic performance… Using these new digital tools to compose and edit video in real-time has been challenging and invigorating, and has changed the way that I work and think about image creation.
Have you seen any of Atlas’s video works and installations or been present at one of his performances before?
At Tate Modern next week you’ll be able to see open rehearsals and performances by Atlas in collaboration with Paris-based dancer and choreographer duo Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud, New York based performance artist Johanna Constantine and sound artist Helm. He’ll also present a new version of multi-channel video piece MC9 2012, which revisits and reinterprets material made with and about Merce Cunningham.
With live video editing, projection and music, come and watch Atlas’s precision and playfulness in action and have some fun along the way.
See open rehearsals and book tickets for BMW Tate Live: Charles Atlas and Collaborators at the Tanks at Tate Modern, Tuesday 19 March 2013 to Tuesday 26 March 2013