Ron Arad's Curtain Call - an unforgettable experience at Camden's Roundhouse

By Nick Owen | 09 August 2011
Concept image for Ron Arad's Curtain Call
© Courtesy of Ron Arad
Exhibition: Ron Arad’s Curtain Call, Roundhouse, London, until August 29 2011

Being the focal point for the woes of a naked, slovenly giant and to then be hurled into the centre of a poisoned tropical landscape is not something one expects to experience in a north London theatre.

However, visitors to the Roundhouse this summer will be entering the world of Ron Arad, a man who is something of an enigma.

Just like the forms his icons of contemporary design take – the Bookworm bookcase, his Ripple Chair, the Holon Design Museum in Israel – he is unclassifiable.

Roundhouse by Greenaway & Greenaway
A still from Roundhouse° by Greenaway & Greenaway© Courtesy of Greenaway & Greenaway
Born in Tel Aviv in 1951, Arad is a designer born from architecture who dabbles in sculpture, installations and digital projections.

You can never be sure of the artistic direction he will take, but the common link through all of Arad’s work is its inherent humanness.

The curves of his designs, the concepts behind his architecture and the invitation of interaction in his sculpture are all born from a desire to rejoice in the human.

Responding to the Roundhouse’s main space, Curtain Call is Arad at his most ambiguous but also his most communal.

From 50 kilometres of silicon tubes suspended from an 18-metre diameter ring, Arad has created a cylindrical curtain that will become a two-way canvas for artists, musicians and performers.

To fully experience the curtain, however, visitors have to walk in and cross the moving images, shaping the projections with ripples and waves.

According to Arad, the idea for Curtain Call came quickly: “You’ve noticed that the Roundhouse is round – it’s the first thing you notice," he says.

“You should definitely take advantage of the fact that it has no direction.
Mat Collishaw's Sordid Earth
A still from Mat Collishaw's Sordid Earth
© Courtesy of Mat Collishaw
“I’ve been here for performances and the space was transformed, it was like a photoshow.

“So I thought this was an opportunity to enjoy the roundness of it and it didn’t take very long to say: why don’t we do this thing, this curtain thing?”

For Curtain Call’s three-week run, a content loop will play throughout the day, with works provided by Arad’s cohorts.

“We thought it would be far more exciting for our friends and colleagues to claim it than it to just be about us."

The loop begins with Roundhouse° by Greenaway & Greenaway, an abstracted mirror responding to Arad’s sculpture by putting the Roundhouse in the projection.

Perhaps the most startling piece of the loop, using the curtain to full effect, is Mat Collishaw’s Sordid Earth.

Feeding on our neurotic appetite for depictions of a catastrophe-ravaged earth, a tropical landscape punctuated by gleaming waterfalls becomes poisoned by disease-ridden flowers.

Seeing visitors walk through the rendered waterfalls gives the piece a disturbing sense of reality.

Acclaimed artists Babis Alexiadis, Christian Marclay and Ori Gersht, provide, among others, further works, as well as David Shrigley’s Walker.

Shrigley’s animation sees a giant walk morosely around the curtain, naked except for his heavy boots emitting thunderous claps. It's both hilarious and extremely disconcerting.  

Arad is enthused by the unpredictability of the show, acting not as a curator to the contributing artists, but as a facilitator.

David Shrigley's Walker
A still from David Shrigley's Walker
© Courtesy of David Shrigley
“This is an experiment, and the word experiment includes the possibility of failure”, he said.

“But I was very reassured that even if we did just some of the things we were talking about, it would be great.

“It ignores the Bolshevik ideas of the fine art world.”

For Marcus Davey, CEO/Artistic Director for the Roundhouse, it is this idea that is at the heart of the project.

“The magic thing is that Bloomberg have given sponsorship so you 'pay what you can' to see this,” he said.

“There will be young people involved in creating content for it along with these amazing high-profile artists.

So all these things together make Curtain Call very democratic.”

Throughout the run there will also be special performances by musicians such as the acclaimed cellist Steven Isserlis, the London Contemporary Orchestra and Berlin-based electronic label Innervisions, for which tickets range from £12 to £25.

Christian Marclay's Pianorama in action
Christian Marclay's Pianorama in action
© Stephen White
Free special events will also be held, including a reading of a "rude oracle" by the award-winning author, Jonathan Safran Foer.

Foer once said of Arad: "There are things – pornography, the taste of water – that are impossible to define but easy to recognise. Ron Arad's genius is such a thing”.

With Curtain Call, that genius is in full swing, making for a truly unforgettable experience.

  • For more information and special event listings visit the Curtain Call homepage
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