And Atlas, standing at the limits of the earth,| before the clear-voiced Hesperides, under strong necessity, | holds with head and untiring arms; | for this is the fate wise Zeus allotted him. Hesiod, Theogony 
Ancient Greek cosmogony knows the story of the Titan Atlas who was punished for his offences against the Olympian Zeus. Atlas had to hold up the Sky (Ouranus) to separate it from the Earth (Gaia). For this task he was banished to the westernmost part of the known world, the Atlas Mountains in today’s Marocco. This place was assumed to be the axis around which the Sky was rotating the Earth. Therefore, Atlas is situated at the same time at the (rotation) center of the world and at its furthest edge, where the earth as far as it was considered known ended and the Unknown began. From this vantage point Atlas was able to see both the known parts of the world as well as the unknown.
For our photo series Atlases we ask people to impersonate the mythological figure Atlas, and to imagine being at the limits of the known world looking into the Unknown while having to separate the sky from the earth. To perform this task for our camera we asked politicians, managers, artists, researchers, curators, journalists and leaders from different walks of life. Their embodiment of Atlas is an invitation into a process of common imagination.
Content, however, cannot be thought without its visual representation and their connection needs actualisation to make sense. As artists, we propose the game and our move is to follow the events through our lens. Our fellow players then engage in the rules of the game, consider their individual understanding of Atlas’ situation, and perform their distinctive and personal version of embodying him. But this game is taken further. With regards to Roger Callois the relation portrayer – portrayed – observer can be imagined as a continuation of the game in this work. In a game every action gains a double meaning, for it demands to be taken seriously and to be seen in a playful manner. Only through the viewpoint of imagination we can make a distinction between the two, and we can accept and act on them both concurrently. This double meaning - exposing the game’s paradoxal character - can be viewed as a characteristics of a game in Callois’ sense. As the observer, however, one simply needs to turn the picture to see how this game is played. But the subsequent unmasking of the process does not affect the game, its rules and the common imagination it establishes.
In this sense this work discusses how we create the world as we perceive it, that our specific worldview triggers a specific response in the world and that, in this way, we generate our relation with it. Simultaneously, we are supported by the world and we support the world – this becomes even more evident in the age of the Anthropocene or Chthulucene. Like the Atlas-impersonators we find ourselves laying feet up on our backs, right at the point where the Known and the Unknown meet.
Photo series, 2008 – ongoing
Installed at: ︎ Glas facade of the Congress Center of the European Forum Alpbach
︎ Shanghai Himalayas Museum
© Anderwald + Grond