Review of Charles Atlas: Glacier at Bloomberg Space, London

The current exhibition at Bloomberg Space, located on Finsbury Square, amongst the suit-filled pavements of London’s financial district, is an experiential exhibition, deliberately distanced from the streets just beyond its walls. The piece, Glacier by Charles Atlas, uses a 360-degree projection to create an immersive environment. Atlas, best known for his work with Merce Cunningham, conceived the project in collaboration with the South London Gallery. Similar to his work with dance composed for film, this piece has an undeniable rhythm. In this case however, the rhythm is not contained in any exterior gesture, but held within the motion of the edit.

The blacked-out Bloomberg Space is lit up by bars of colour, projections focussed on and filling all but a few of the room’s surfaces. An ominous, consuming sound complements the light. A deep sonorous rumble that fills the room, matched with a higher, buzzing frequency. The coloured panels fade and are replaced by crowds of people all walking toward the camera. The crowds are on busy streets, in underground stations, and in packed airports. In response to their inward motion the relative expanse of Bloomberg Space appears to contract, the walls begin closing in.

Although the edge of each projection touches the next, the crowds do not merge to form one. The video images are noticeably separate, and shift clockwise around the room, following the divisions marked earlier by the colour blocks, taking turns in each possible space of projection. Amidst the crowds of people new images are introduced. A white glutinous substance bubbles and quivers, whilst across the room its colour is echoed by a waterfall, which tumbles downwards, blowing spume towards the camera. Later, rain patters on the streets, glancing off a shining wet pavement, and crisp white ice reflects the sun.

The image of yellow circular bottle tops is imitated in a later shot by cans of yellow paint. In both cases the objects move across the screen, propelled by industrial conveyor belts, two images of mass-production. This theme is recurrent, reintroduced as a prolonged scene amongst the series of more fleeting images, a vast warehouse with yellow boxes meandering across it on another conveyer belt. In the boxes are books, CDs, and board games. Workers move around the operation, dwarfed by the expanse of the space, and just as anonymous as the people tightly packed into the earlier crowds.

The environment produced by the projections is immersive. When a new image breaks the ever-moving sequence of videos, its impact is disorientating. A street scene is projected on all four walls of the gallery space. The viewer has, it seems, been placed inside a glass box, looking out at London from all sides. The street, however, is the same in all directions. The recording was taken from inside gallery before the windows facing out towards Finsbury Square were blacked-out. After this all the screens go black and the cyclical projection begins again.

Charles Atlas: Glacier, 25 January until 31 March, Bloomberg Space, 50 Finsbury Square, London, EC2A 1HD.

Travis Riley

All images are courtesy of Charles Atlas, Glacier, 2013, 4-channel video installation,12’ (looped). Photo: Dave Morgan.