“Glitter/Utopia,” “Boring/Because,” “Decade/Asshat,” “Wartime/Paisley”: These are a few of the word combinations that appear in Charles Atlas’ two-channel video projection, Ethel’s Fortune or The Waning of Justice (2015), currently filling two expansive, adjacent walls at Luhring Augustine’s Chelsea location. Each term in the dyad phases into position in front of footage of a maritime sunset while the letters themselves open up similar vistas contained within their block forms. Alone, this composition does not amount to much: an exquisite corpse and a field of solar kitsch, folded into one another with the aid of pedestrian video-effects software.
But it is not alone. Ethel’s Fortune has three companion pieces, Terri’s Option (2015), Chai (2015), and Kiss the Day Goodbye (2015). Although described by the gallery as autonomous works, the four are linked by shared medium, duration, subject matter (most involve sunset footage that Atlas captured while at the Rauschenberg Residency in Florida), and an audio track composed by the London-based electronic artist Helm. Their combined presence creates what the gallery aptly characterizes as “one dynamic visual experience” (effectively having it both ways): an immersive, Rothko-esque bath of fiery ochres, salving lavenders, and darkling blues, in places interpolated by digital enumeration, notably countdowns. The latter element, paired with Helm’s soundtrack of gloomy, anxious electronica followed by a funerary bagpipe, serves to evoke the more brooding connotations of sunset. Behind the brilliance, we perceive a harbinger of inevitable darkness.