The near conscious  surrogates of

ED ATKINS

BY DORON BEUNS

When virtual bodies and spiders appear to have human consciousness and start confronting their own existential issues they are probably situated in a work of Ed Atkins. The Berlin based artist is one of the British participants in the latest edition of the 58th Venice Art Biennale. Within the Central Pavilion Atkins displayed a new series of ten drawings titled ‘Bloom’ alongside an older video installation titled ‘Old Food’ from 2017. The ‘Bloom’ drawings depict tarantulas situated on various human hands and feet with the artist’s shrunken ambivalent face on the abdomen area of the spiders. The ‘Old Food’ installation on the other hand displays weeping male figures, at various stages of their lives, alongside several racks of empty theatre costumes. The works chosen for the Biennale seem to have little in common in terms of subject matter but share a similar approach. They both demonstrate Atkins’ capacity to channel angst, void, desire and literary utterances through other bodies.

Within Atkins’ oeuvre, other bodies function as surrogates for his melancholic and poetic scripts. According to Atkins melancholy is defined by ‘something that is missing but remains unknown and therefore irretrievable.’ Atkins virtual characters are ultimately stuck in this melancholic condition because they lack the transformative potential of real bodies in real time. A body that was made to be miserable will forever remain in miserable within an Ed Atkins work. The characters in these works nevertheless demand empathy through their hyperreal appearance and revealing monologues. The verbose monologues often defy the expectation of the depicted characters and the confusion becomes even more profound when the animated actions of the character contradict or pervert its language. This for instance occurs in a video titled Ribbon from 2014, where a self-destructive yet poetic pub brawler named ‘Dave’ urinates in his glass right before he sings: ‘human kindness is overflowing, and I think it is going to rain today ’. Witty to say the least.

Ed Atkins Old Food, 2017-19 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live In Interesting Times, Photo by: Avezzù, Rondinella, Galli, Salvi – Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

The way in which Ed Atkins connects poetic sequences and disruptive absurdity could be best described as an  exercise in ‘Bathos’, a term that was coined by the poet Alexander Pope to describe a failed attempt at sublimity.

The use of ‘bathos’ very much plays into the idea that an artist is someone that dwindles between being poetic and nonsensical, and that those dual things can coexist in blissful union. The disruption of sublime phenomena is furthermore applied to the editing in Atkins’ videos.

Hyperreal appearances and instances are alternated with bits that reveal their editing process. These bits operate as little hints that point to the artificial nature of the imagery, but in a particularly subtle dosage that sustains its ambiguity. This is most evident in Atkins’ depiction of the male body.

Atkins makes us look at abject bodies that “look very alive and human but shouldn’t be alive”. This especially applies to a work such as ‘Safe Conduct’ from 2016 where the protagonist throws his own body parts and intestines into an airport security tray whilst furthering the routine in a calm manner. Or the ‘Unititled’ sandwich video in which multiple human bodies, various objects and foods are smashed together within a sandwich as if they were crash test dummies.

The bodies in the above videos have a relatable appearance but are subjected to surreal forms of cruelty. This tension, between what seems to be real and should not be real, compares directly to the tension between our physical and mental state. Atkins thereby confronts us with the ever closing gap between virtual, physical and psychological aspects of our daily lives.

This can be anxiety inducing at its very best and very worst.

Ed Atkins Old Food, 2017-19 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live In Interesting Times, Photo by: Avezzù, Rondinella, Galli, Salvi – Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia


PUBLICATION LISTED IN THE ITALIAN PRESS REGISTER BY THE SASSARI COURT OF LAW WITH REGISTRATION NUMBER 447/2017.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: ALICE ZUCCA

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