thu 20/06/2024

Ron Arad's Curtain Call, The Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Ron Arad's Curtain Call, The Roundhouse

Ron Arad's Curtain Call, The Roundhouse

The designer explains the thinking behind his giant installation

'A container within a container': at the Roundhouse Ron Arad's curtain is calling

The round and the curtain are two of theatre’s oldest pieces of stagecraft.

Yet architect and design legend Ron Arad has reinvented both in celebration of the Camden Roundhouse’s fifth birthday. The north London venue, which was transformed from a redundant 19th-century railway turntable shed into a famed music venue in the Sixties, was revamped in 2006 and has since become a hub of creative support for young and disadvantaged people in the area. Echoing these sentiments, Arad’s Curtain Call has been created with accessibility and opportunity at its core to try and bring art to the masses.

The Curtain is, well, a curtain. A curtain made of some 6000 8-metre-tall silicon tubes, fittingly reminiscent of the Roundhouse’s Sixties heritage as it swings with a weight more often found in retro beaded curtains. A buzz of static electricity can be felt as you near it, a trembling wall of tubular projection space. Behind the curtain Arad has created a space at once intimate and exposed. You really do feel like you’re on stage. With a movable wall less than an inch thick, there's a tangible sense of internal and external space.

"The Roundhouse itself contains a lot of different things, and mine is a container within a container,” he says. Films will be projected onto the curtain that vary wildly in style and subject, rightly so given the eclectic range of the creators involved. These members of Arad's "very selfish wishlist" include artist Mat Collishaw, fashion designer Hussein Chalayan and illustrator David Shrigley. “I just closed my eyes and imagined who would be excellent in it. I tried to trick myself into thinking what they would do there, but I have to say I was surprised - everybody took it to a different place from where I thought they would. It’s fantastic.” 

Collishaw’s Sordid Earth places the viewer on the floor of a decaying rainforest as a tropical storm takes place. It’s a bit Avatar, but knowingly so, and so visceral that people jump at the resonant, surround-sound thunderclaps. David Shrigley’s grisly figure fills up the whole height of the curtain, wearing nothing but army boots, belching. Like much of his work, it will no doubt initiate debate. 

SDNA’s film, A Waking Dream, possibly makes use of the space best. Turning the curtain into a giant zoetrope, the audience is left to marvel as figures appear confused before embracing the space, dancing, leaping and walking. In a demonstration of how truly interactive art should work, A Waking Dream’s protagonists mirror the experience of the viewer. Meanwhile, Greenaway & Greenaway reflect the space their film occupies - a montage of the pillars and beams which comprise the Roundhouse’s original architecture.

aradBut it’s not just the art that’s there to lure people in. Thanks to funding from Bloomberg, the events happening at Curtain Call over the next month are mainly free or operate on a Pay What You Can admission. Arad aimed to create an installation which would encourage those who don’t ususally visit art galleries to get involved. And he’s succeeded - the Curtain is so playful an inevitable childishness sets in. There is something simply lovely in walking in and around it, being disruptive but not distracting, knowing the movement will impact ever so slightly. “It’s exciting and interesting for people who haven’t experienced anything like it," Arad (pictured above right) explains. "Sometimes because of the content and sometimes, not in spite of the content, but because of the experience of excitement itself.”

It’s a spirit of ease and fun (again echoing the Sixties vibe) which permeates the rest of the events, such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Rude Oracle. The American author will await as participants, armed with a question, enter the curtain alone. As Foer types out his slightly impolite answer it will appear across the curtain for all to see. Compose your questions wisely. Other events reflect the focus on opportunity so integral to the Roundhouse’s redevelopment; Bring your own Beamer invites amateur film-makers to bring a projector and their work and showcase it en masse upon the curtain. 

You may never have felt compelled to get on stage, but curtains always inspire a desire to peek around them. I strongly encourage you to do that with this one.

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