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portrait of Charles Atlas
video projection of numbers on a brick wall

“The Mathematics of Consciousness” is one of Atlas’s largest installations, projecting multiple moving images across the brick wall lined with windows. He later described it as “a portrait of my brain.”

Credit:  Timothy O'Connell for The New York Times

The visual artist Charles Atlas started his video career with Merce Cunningham, but his new Pioneer Works project shows how many leaps he has taken since.

On a hot day in July the pioneering film and video maker Charles Atlas seemed a little anxious about his latest sprawling piece, “The Mathematics of Consciousness,” opening Sept. 9 at Pioneer Works, the nonprofit cultural center in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

It is one of his largest installations, projecting multiple moving images across a 100-foot-long brick wall lined with windows, and ranks as “the most challenging” of his career, said Atlas, 73, sporting his signature bright orange sideburns, a longtime signifier of his downtown ethos.

“I’ve been in a bad mood about this piece,” he said, sitting at a computer in the long, narrow space as he tested out combinations of videos and tried to sync them up elegantly. “I’m less worried now, but I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”

Asked how long he would be making changes to the work, he replied, “What time do we open?”—meaning that it could be truly last-minute.

Atlas made his breakthrough as filmmaker-in-residence for the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham with early works like “Walkaround Time” (1973), an ode to Marcel Duchamp that included both dance footage and behind-the-scenes moments. Given his background in performance, curtain times still have a real power over Atlas, who is known for worrying over decisions in any case.

“He’s the hardest-working person I have ever met,” said Stuart Comer, the Museum of Modern Art’s chief curator of media and performance art.

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