The Pick - Curtain Call

August 11, 2011

Leaps of imagination: SDNA's exploration of surreal dreaming

Curtain Call

The Roundhouse, London

The Roundhouse, a Victorian engine shed that later served as a gin distillery store, has long been one of London's most exciting performance spaces. Although it is now celebrating its fifth anniversary in its current incarnation, it has been used since 1966 for "happenings", circuses, experimental theatre, landmark rock concerts, cutting-edge music and installations such as one that saw the vaults taken over by a menacing troupe of ceramic crocodiles.

Much of this history feeds into the industrial designer Ron Arad's Curtain Call. It consists of 5,600 silicon rods, over 8m high, suspended from a metal ring 18m in diameter at the heart of the Roundhouse's Main Space. This creates a separate performance area, which audiences can move in and out of, while also providing a large circular screen on which films can be projected on either surface.

Arad asked a number of artist friends to create new works for the space - and none of them, he reports, "came up with a vision that I expected. I'm very happy with that". They will all play for most of the day on a continuous loop until 29 August. Funding from the media company Bloomberg means that anyone can visit on a "pay what you can" basis, ensuring wide access and extensive usage of the venue during a normally quiet month.

In Mat Collishaw's Sordid Earth, a waterfall seems to burst through the silicon curtain as viewers are caught in an ominously lush forest. Giant orchids open up menacingly and then slowly droop. Buzzing insects colonise flowers. The vibrating rods seem to summon up a rainstorm.

Equally powerful, if far more enigmatic, is SDNA's Waking Dream. After an opening sequence with a man silhouetted against the window of a train, a series of vast figures seems to step out of nowhere into the space created by Arad's curtain. The figures' movements gradually get more and more complex and surprising. A woman in a grey dress is suddenly and repeatedly pulled by an arm out of sight. Another starts leaping and twirling all around us on several different levels. Eventually we find ourselves in a moonlit birch wood with an acrobat somersaulting through it.

Joe Hardy has created a work where the curtain "responds" to the movement of audiences by becoming more or less opaque. Christian Marclay offers Pianorama, in which huge hands appear on an immense circular keyboard. Both the London Contemporary Orchestra (23 August) and cellist Steven Isserlis (17 August), normally used to concert halls where the music speaks for itself, will be performing, and there will also be a screening of the epic 1920s film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (19 August). American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, meanwhile, will be contributing an interactive event described as "a very rude oracle" (15 August).

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