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Issue 187

Questionnaire: Charles Atlas

Q: What should stay the same? A: Change.

BY Charles Atlas in Interviews , Questionnaires | 23 APR 17

Charles Atlas, Untitled and undated image supplied by the artist. Courtesy: the artist

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

The images that fill my studio – hung on the walls, pinned to a bulletin board or resting on the mantelpiece above a fireplace – don’t change very often. They include posters for a Michael Clark performance from the 1990s, for a Bob Flanagan show with the motto ‘Fight sickness with sickness’, for a DANCENOISE performance in the 1980s, for one of my films, The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002), and for my exhibition at Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York, ‘The Illusion of Democracy’ (2012), which features a map of the US in orange. There are also large photographs – a head shot of Edie Sedgwick; one of Merce Cunningham jumping – some artworks that were gifts from friends, including Josef Astor, Nicole Eisenman, Glen Fogel and Mimi Gross, and a couple of flea-market paintings.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

I grew up in St Louis, Missouri, so the first artworks that I encountered were at the St Louis Art Museum. The ones that have always stayed with me are paintings: a still life by Francisco de Zurbarán and a large figurative canvas by Max Beckmann. In terms of art that really inspired me and changed my thinking, however, that would have to be Andy Warhol’s film Chelsea Girls (1966), which I saw shortly after I first moved to New York.

If you could live with only one piece of art, what would it be?

Yellow Ranch (Rancho Amarillo) / ROCI CUBA (1988), a painting by Robert Rauschenberg, although Édouard Manet’s The Old Musician (1862) is a close second.

What is your favourite title of an artwork?

Shark Bait of Capitalism (1960–63), a performance piece by Jack Smith.

What do you wish you knew?

Whether numbers exist or are constructions of the human mind.

What should change?

The two-party political system in the US and the moral and legal entitlements of non-human animals.

What should stay the same?


What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

Science, in particular astronomy or cosmology.

What music are you listening to?

Anohni, Hopelessness (2016); Fennesz, Mahler Remixed (2014); James Ferraro, Human Story 3 (2016); LCD Soundsystem, The Long GoodBye (2014); Sampha, Process (2017);
The Sediment Club, Psychosymplastic (2015); Solange, A Seat at the Table (2016).

What are you reading?

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others (2002); Douglas Crimp, Before Pictures (2016); Chris Hedges, Unspeakable (2016);

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (2014). I am also reading progressive blogs including Digby’s ‘Hullabaloo’ and ‘The Rude Pundit’.

What do you like the look of?


What is art for?

What is life for?

Charles Atlas is an artist living in New York, USA. His 3D film and dance work TESSERACT, made in collaboration with choreographers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, premiered at EMPAC, Troy, USA, in January 2017. His solo exhibition ‘Here She Is … V.1’ is on display at the Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, USA, until September.