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Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Install shot © Mark Westall
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Install shot © Mark Westall

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer is a multi-faceted portrait of the groundbreaking dancer and choreographer told by and through the eyes of the creative voices and faces the artist has collaborated with since he launched Michael Clark & Company, aged only 22, in 1984.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of A Prune Twin (2020) by Charles Atlas Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of A Prune Twin (2020) by Charles Atlas Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images

The exhibition opens with an immersive sound and video installation by Charles Atlas who re-edited two of his previous films on Clark into ‘A Prune Twin’ – an anagram of ‘New Puritan’ references his original anti-documentary ‘Hail the New Puritan’ from 1986 which is mixed in with 1989’s ‘Because We Must’. Serving as a perfect introduction to the young Michael Clark and his contemporaries, mingling in this room is the closest you get to clubbing during pandemic 2020.

The films are as much an homage to London as to Michael Clark whose work was inspired by the city’s club, queer and punk subcultures. A lot of what has since been absorbed into the mainstream seemed shocking and dangerous against the conformity and constraints of Thatcher’s Britain. Maybe tellingly Big Ben was covered in scaffold again now as it was then, a lot of the footage feels simultaneously fresh and nostalgic.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of A Prune Twin (2020) by Charles Atlas Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of A Prune Twin (2020) by Charles Atlas
Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images

For those lucky enough to have caught the live performances of seminal works ‘I Am Curious, Orange’ (1988) or ‘current/SEE’ (1998), the exhibition provides an opportunity to relive exciting memories by bringing these back to life with original footage and props – the two rooms divided by a display of posters, flyers and programmes. The installations convey the magic of experiencing live dance and evoke the buzz Michael Clark created by merging highly conceptual contemporary dance not only with punk and rock but also with fashion and visual arts elements – as well as a chance of witnessing Michael Clark’s own unique moves.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View Barbican Art Gallery
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of room with works by Elizabeth Peyton, Leigh Bowery, BodyMap and Stevie Stewart Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images

The upper level is a more conventional gallery presentation across eight rooms dedicated to works by Michael Clark’s friends and collaborators. Visual art displays include portrait paintings by Peter Doig and Elizabeth Peyton; a more intimate photography installation by Wolfgang Tillmans; as well as a new commission by German artist Silke Otto-Knapp who recreates recognisably Michael Clark rhythm and postures across a series of ten monochrome paintings.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of Sarah Lucas room Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer Installation View of Sarah Lucas room Barbican Art Gallery
7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images

Highlights include installations by Sarah Lucas that illustrate the friends’ shared fascination with sexuality and body language across two of the rooms. A replica of Lucas’ wanking arm from the set of ‘Before and After: The Fall’ (2001) is displayed alongside cigarette sculptures which are repeated on a revised version of wallpaper that provide the backdrop for a couple of large-scale sculptures in the room opposite.

Installation View of room with works by Elizabeth Peyton, Leigh Bowery, BodyMap and Stevie Stewart Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images
Installation View of room with works by Elizabeth Peyton, Leigh Bowery, BodyMap and Stevie Stewart Barbican Art Gallery 7 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 © Tim Whitby/Getty Images

Another highlight is a rare glimpse into the closet of the late Leigh Bowery displayed alongside a selection of BodyMap costumes. Both formed an integral part of Clark’s earlier work and can be recognised from the film footage in the Charles Atlas installation at the beginning of the exhibition, or the archive material spread across two viewing rooms – too much to take in on just one visit.

Artists featured in the exhibition include: Charles Atlas, Leigh Bowery, BodyMap, Duncan Campbell, Peter Doig, Cerith Wyn Evans, The Fall, Sophie Fiennes, Sarah Lucas, Silke Otto-Knapp, Elizabeth Peyton, Susan Stenger, Stevie Stewart, Wolfgang Tillmans, Trojan. Archival film presentation includes work by Angela Conway Peter Greenaway, Ann Herdman, Derek Jarman, Daniel Landin, Alexander McQueen, Scritti Politti, Laibach, Bruce Gilbert, Vivienne Westwood.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer marks the 15th year of Michael Clark Company’s collaboration with the Barbican as an Artistic Associate and continues until 3rd January 2021
For further details and bookings click here

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Michael Clark in Charles Atlas’s Hail the New Puritan, 1986 Still, 16mm film transferred to video, sound, duration: 84:54 minutes. © Charles Atlas, courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer

This October, Barbican Art Gallery stages the first ever major exhibition on the groundbreaking dancer and choreographer Michael Clark. Exploring his unique combination of classical and contemporary culture

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