Portals to Other Realities: Charles Atlas’s ‘Tesseract’

‘Sometimes, we can’t see what we know’

Jodie Melnick and Charles Atlas performing in The Kitchen Follies, 2018, at The Kitchen, New York. Courtesy: the artists and The Kitchen, New York; photograph: Paula Court

Jodi Melnick and Charles Atlas performing in The Kitchen Follies, 2018, at The Kitchen, New York. Courtesy: the artists and The Kitchen, New York; photograph: Paula Court

The artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas debuted his first video incorporating dance performance in more than a decade with Tesseract (2017), which uses the four-dimensional shape as an analogy for speculating a life beyond. The strangeness of the tesseract emanates from our inability to fully picture its complex shape despite our knowledge of its properties: a four-dimensional form whose every face is a cube. Sometimes, we can’t see what we know.

Using stereoscopic, three-dimensional video techniques, Atlas demonstrates in Tesseract how art can intimate hyper-dimensions of time and space and how our bodies can be inscribed into this new world. As the evening unfolded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music presentation, the audience witnessed how different media can become portals to other realities. Atlas seamlessly transported performers and dancers from the two-dimensional screen into three-dimensional illusion and, finally, into real life onstage, creating a science-fiction narrative where a multiplicity of spaces, temporalities and actions can simultaneously exist.

All this came into focus for me a year later during The Kitchen Follies (2018), a raucous performance variety show that Atlas presented to accompany his excellent exhibition at The Kitchen in New York, ‘the past is here, the futures are coming’. In one of the early acts of the night, featuring choreographer Jodi Melnick dancing solo, Atlas unexpectedly stepped away from the video-mixing control desk where he was manipulating video in real-time and joined the performance as a dancer – creating a momentary duet – before returning to his station. This was a tesseract moment for me.

Though I’ve collaborated with Atlas in the past, it was not until this moment that I finally saw what I already knew. I was transported to a short film he made years earlier, in which two performers tethered to the corners of a tesseract cube attempt to run past its confines, each encountering the other along the way.

Howie Chen is a curator based in New York, USA

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019

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