Ed Atkins (*1982, Oxford) is at the vanguard of a new generation of artists reflecting on the profound changes in our reality caused by the rapid development of digital media. He gained critical acclaim for his computer-generated animations, in which he questions the promises, potential, and ideologies of the technologies he uses.
In evocative videos with compelling soundtracks, he addresses existential themes such as love, death, and illness, and considers how desire, melancholy, and transience are experienced today in view of their increasingly digital abstraction.
Atkins taps the potentials of digital image production to radically dematerialise physical objects and realistically reproduce them at the same time. Many of his animations feature a central protagonist whose movements have been programmed using motion-capture technology and whom Atkins has brought to life with his own facial expressions, gestures, and voice. His hyperrealistic surrogates embody both a sense of absolute artificiality and a disturbing proximity to real-life at its extremes, as they cry or address viewers directly.
In his solo exhibition “Ye Olde Food” on the Bel Etage of K21, Ed Atkins unites text, sound, and images to create an immersive environment where viewers become part of a pseudo-historical world of idyllic landscapes and cozy wooden huts. The works examine the effects of virtual spaces on the physically tangible reality of the viewer and encourage reflection on the physicality and emotionality of our increasingly digitised world and its inheritances –– as well as on the possibilities and limits of language.
The verbose characters of Atkins’s earlier video works have been rendered speechless. Now they merely moan, wheeze, and howl incessantly, trapped in a never-ending cycle of sentimentality. The installation is appended by a piano piece by the contemporary Swiss composer Jürg Frey. The delicate texture of eight chords in slow, halting succession plays in a loop, imbuing the exhibition with a sense of melancholy, romance, and ambivalence.
In addition to the videos, four monumental clothing racks hung with opera costumes from the Deutsche Oper Berlin assert their presence within the space. Through their weight, smell, and acoustic dampening, they stand in contrast to the high-resolution digitality of the video works, even as they too remind us of countless bodies –– lives –– that are absent. They are closely connected to the fictionality of Atkins’ visual worlds; their claim to historicity, via opera, is as counterfeit as the tears shed by the digital figures.
“Old food is of course a misnomer”, claims one of the laser-engraved objects, whose texts were written by the anonymous art-criticism blog, Contemporary Art Writing Daily. The digitally animated sandwiches seemingly advertised in one of the videos will never spoil, the old man crawling across the floor will never die, there will never be cause for all the tears. The world of “Ye Olde Food” will continue to exist indefinitely, without any hope for dramatic redemption.