The Mathematics of Consciousness
Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas: The Mathematics of Consciousness centers on a newly commissioned multimedia installation that takes inspiration from the seminal film and video artist’s ongoing interests in science and math—particularly, memory, thought formation, and numerical expressions. Combining original footage and segments culled from his extensive archives, the immersive video work extends across 100 feet of the institution’s interior architecture, projecting flickering images throughout its windows that simulate the ways in which ideas appear in the human mind.

Atlas envisions the brick wall of Pioneer Works’ Main Hall as an analogue for the brain, divided into left and right sections. Unified by an original score by musician and collaborator Lazar Bozic, the video toggles between numerical fantasies, dance sequences, abstract compositions, scientific ruminations, and internet memes to encapsulate the artist’s disparate thoughts and ideas. The work builds on a series of projections that he has completed over the past few years, including Geometry of Thought (2019) on the 2.5-acre facade of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart and Angel Dust (2021) on a free-standing, 19th-century Indian Pleasure Pavilion at Luhring Augustine Gallery.

The artist notes, “I have been making large-scale, site-specific installations since 2007, and animating the architecture of Pioneer Works represents my biggest challenge to date. Instead of creating a single wall-sized composition, I am creating twenty-six distinct videos projected to fit the windows, and filling the voids in between. I consider space and time to be my media, and this has led me to a fascination with physics, consciousness and cosmology—scientific themes woven together with my sustained interest in portraiture, performance and dance."

Since his beginnings as filmmaker-in-residence for Merce Cunningham Dance Company during the early 1970s, Atlas has collapsed the barriers between dance, performance, and media, often collaborating with a dynamic roster of creative figures to harness a distinctly multidisciplinary and experimental point of view. The Mathematics of Consciousness continues a number of these working relationships.

A prominent component of the installation is a stage designed by artist Mika Tajima, who previously collaborated with Atlas at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009) and South London Gallery (2011), in collaboration with Chadha Ranch, which transforms industrial scaffolding into an armature for performances featuring ongoing and new collaborators, and discussions that consider the theoretical origins of consciousness and mathematical sequences. A direct response to Atlas’s video, Tajima’s sculptural environment makes a conceptual connection between black holes and the meridian system that maps and circulates energy within the human body—both of which represent the ungraspable and unknowable, within and beyond.

Analogous to the action of acupuncture needles, javelins puncture illuminated, gradient surfaces that outline both black hole star formations and energy pressure points of the body. In ancient times, javelins were used for hunting, sport and war, and now is the common name for the handheld missile used by Ukrainian forces to defend against the Russian invasion. Embodying chaos and entropy, the spears rupture the hole diagrams and grid architecture, resisting the imperative to control, systematize and contain.

About the Artists

Charles Atlas (b. 1949 in St. Louis; lives and works in New York City) has been a pioneering figure in film and video for over five decades. Atlas has extended the limits of his medium, forging new territory in a far-reaching range of genres, stylistic approaches, and techniques. Throughout his production, the artist has consistently fostered collaborative relationships, working intimately with such artists and performers as Leigh Bowery, Michael Clark, Douglas Dunn, Marina Abramovic, Yvonne Rainer, Mika Tajima/New Humans, Antony and the Johnsons, and most notably, Merce Cunningham, for whom he served as in-house videographer for a decade from the early 1970s through 1983; their close working relationship continued until Cunningham’s death in 2009. In 2017, the Hammer Museum acquired Atlas’s video The Tyranny of Consciousness, which had been recently featured in the 57th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennial. His work is also included in the permanent collections of major institutions worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Art; Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; among others. In 2017, Atlas and choreographers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener premiered Tesseract, a new two-part work consisting of a stereoscopic 3D film and a dance performance with real-time video mixing. In 2019, he unveiled a new commission for Art on theMART: a site-specific video work that spanned across the 2.5 acre river-façade of theMART in Chicago. The artist has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, three Bessie (New York Dance and Performance) Awards, the 2006 John Cage Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and a USA Artists Gracie Fellowship.

Mika Tajima (b. 1975 in Los Angeles; lives and works in New York City)  is an artist whose practice materializes techniques developed to shape the physicality, productivity, and desires of the human body. Her sculptures, paintings, videos, and installations focus on the embodied experience of ortho-architectonic control and computational life. From architectural systems to ergonomic design to psychographic data, Tajima's works operate in the space between the immaterial and the tangible to create heightened encounters that target the senses and emotions of the viewer, underlining the dynamics of control and agency. Tajima holds a BA in Fine Arts and East Asian Studies from Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA, and an MFA from Columbia University, School of the Arts, New York, NY. Selected exhibitions include Appear at Dazaifu Tenmangu, Dazaifu, Japan; Spectral, Taro Nasu, Tokyo, Japan; World of Networks, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Speculative Portraits, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Pacific Century, Hawaii Triennial 2022, Honolulu, HA; Æther at Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, Turkey; Dirty Protests, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Programmed, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; COLORI, Castello di Rivoli and GAM, Torino, Italy; All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Meridian (Gold), Sculpture Center, New York, NY. Her work is also in public collections that include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Lazar Bozic (b. 1991; lives and works in New York City) is a multidisciplinary artist, who works primarily in music and video. With Sediment Club—a project functioning across the genres of no-wave, noise rock and improvisation, founded alongside Austin Julian and Jackie McDermott in 2009—Bozic has toured North America extensively, and collaborated with artists such as improvisor Michael Foster, poet and thinker Felix Bernstein, and post-punk pioneers Bush Tetras. Additionally, he founded LGHQ with Garrett Rosenblum in 2014, and produced electronic scores for artists such as Charles Atlas, Violet Dennison, Jordan Strafer and Larry Bovik. Through his various projects, he has released music with independent labels such as Wharf Cat Records, Ramp Local, Anno, Crude Tapes, NNA Tapes, Feeding Tube Records and Softspot Records. He has performed or shown his work in different galleries and art spaces including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Kitchen, New York; Entrance, New York; and The Glove, Brooklyn; among others.

Charles Atlas: The Mathematics of Consciousness is curated by Gabriel Florenz. Lead funding for the exhibition is provided by Bruce M. Halpryn and Chas Riebe. Commissioning sponsorship is provided by VIA Art Fund, with significant support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.