Curtain Call

The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London (****)

© David Levene

© David Levene

An amazing installation/digital display collected by Ron Arad to celebrate the Roundhouse’s 50th anniversary features more than a dozen different short films projected onto a 360′ degree circular screen made up of silicon rods, it’s by turns dazzling and playfully bizarre in keeping with the Roundhouse’s long tradition of experimentation and breaking boundaries.At nearly two hours long and no seating, younger audiences will definitely thrill to its many weird and wonderful shapes which digital technology can now bring into being. A veritable feast of visual and technical wizardry.

© David Levene

© David Levene

From the ten I saw, one of my favourites, Christian Marclay’s Pianorama featured his – or was it two? – pairs of hands creating a cacophony of black and white sound and visual notes, strangely hypnotic and a play, if you like on the meaning of staccato! Gabriel and Shira Klasmer’s undulating curtains, curling, unfolding, wave upon wave but ending up twisted into geometric pyramids was like running amok in a 1950s interior design showroom while Ori Gersht’s On Perfection was a small gem, a study in reflections – a bowl of flowers shattering into a thousand glass pieces, each shimmering colour resonating with another…and then put back together again.

Some films work better than others; some are repetitive, some just too long. and some less innovating than you might think for a showcase highlighting digital expertise on such a grand scale.

© David Levene

© David Levene

But out of all the profusion of ideas and shapes – a tropical storm where plants breathed themselves, triffid-like into expansion then subsided; a bossanova of letters and colours; a walking cartoon of a grunting, naked man with clumping feet (there’s a metaphor in there somehow about how life feels sometimes…); and a man on a train, dreaming and metamorphosing into a dance peopled by one woman multiplied – the one that seemed most related to the Roundhouse itself was the opening sequence by Greenway & Greenway – a glistening homage to the great steel girders that dominate and constitute the Roundhouse’s unique atmosphere.

By its very shape, the Roundhouse building continues to be exceptional – the old Victorian railway shed where trains were turned 360 degrees – a wonder of engineering.

For some of us with memories of the Roundhouse’s formative years as an art house and home of the 1960s and ’70s burgeoning counter-culture, it’s the building itself that continues to exert its magic. Arad’s Curtain Call expands the notion of experiment into our digital age. But truth to tell, for this viewer, there was something almost too devoid of the human, too abstract about the display, for all its movement and creative energy.

© David Levene

© David Levene

Now isn’t that the paradox…?  Maybe the message was in the medium, after all. Digitalisation can render less human…

Curtain Call, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, runs at the Roundhouse to Aug 29, 2016