The designer and architect Ron Arad is good at rethinking familiar objects.
In 1993, he came up with “Bookworm,” library shelving that’s curvilinear rather than horizontal. His “Curtain Call” at the Roundhouse in London is equally simple yet surprising. It’s a projection screen that isn’t flat, solid and rectangular. It’s circular, translucent and flexible.
Instead of resembling a window, like the normal screen in front of which the audience sits passively, this is more like that 19th-century attraction, the panorama. The strangest part is that you can pull the curtain apart and walk through it. That’s not something you would ever expect to do with a movie screen.
From outside, you see imagery appearing on the surface of a 360-degree cylindrical drum. Step inside, and those images surround you, which completely changes your relationship to what you see. The experience of going from one to the other is a bit like Alice’s when she clambered through the looking glass.
From outside, the circular wall of moving imagery is striking, a hub in the center of a circular building (the Roundhouse is a converted Victorian steam-engine repair shed). The womb-like interior is where people want to be. When I went all the visitors were on the inside, sitting or lying on the floor seemingly immersed in the imagery swirling around them.
At that moment, it was a spectral birch forest revolving like a merry-go-round -- part of “Waking Dream” by the digital-art studio SDNA, one of 12 specially commissioned works that are shown on a loop during the day. Among the other artists are Christian Marclay, whose video collage “The Clock” is a highlight of the Venice Biennale. “Pianorama,” Marclay’s piece for “Curtain Call,” transforms the screen into a cylindrical piano keyboard.
My first reaction was that “Curtain Call” was a spectacular innovation. The second was that its interest, not unexpectedly, depends on what’s being projected. The next piece on the loop, essentially a filmed fashion show by Hussein Chalayan, was less than gripping, even with slightly different coats and frocks coming at you from 360 degrees.
Next up, animations by Babis Alexiadis -- flapping birds, snipping scissors, surging waves -- were more engaging. Essentially, unless you have a great deal of time to spend lying on the Roundhouse floor, what you catch when you drop in will depend on luck. In the evenings, there’s a series of events often involving live musicians. The pianist who was originally filmed for Marclay’s “Pianorama,” for example, will accompany himself.
The most intriguing thing isn’t any particular piece, but the translucent drum-like screen itself. “Curtain Call” could be described as a sculpture or an environment. However you classify the work, it’s something genuinely novel and powerful.
“Curtain Call” is at the Roundhouse, London, through Aug. 29, supported by Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News. Information: http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/
(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)