His videos have made him one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation, but what really drives this British artist are the emotions that escape from the 'screen.
Of all the weird and toned down long distance calls of the past 16 months, the recording of British artist Ed Atkins with his mother surely wins an award for pandemic alienation.
It was in August, during a brief easing of European travel restrictions, and Atkins had been to Berlin sincehis home in Copenhagen. He'd spent the first half of 2020 thinking about how to combine sophisticated computer graphics with fluent conversation - and now in Germany he was trying to speak normally while sensors recorded his every gesture and contraction. His other artistic collaborator was his mother, Rosemary, who was on the other end of the phone.
"We were in a wonderful, sort of run-down hotel, Atkins recalls. He sat alone as a team from Mimic, a Berlin motion capture animation studio, "sat in the next room like members of the Stasi." They watched me as I awkwardly sat in full Lycra and a bulky head support with a GoPro on it. " Image Installation view of "Ed Atkins: Get Life / Love 's Work ", 2021, at the New Museum in a collaboration with Nokia Bell Labs. Her project uses face and motion capture technologies to explore the depths of her own relationships. Credit ... Dario Lasagni / New Museum, New York
Back in England, her mother spoke hesitantly about her own childhood and marriage - the promise that she once felt, the disappointments she lives with now. Atkins tried to get memories of his past, but his body was wet with sweat. Her neck ached from the headgear. The cameras rolled a few inches from his face and around every corner And, meanwhile, "two Germans in the next room were listening to everything.that I tell him. "
It was, the artist told me on a sweltering New York afternoon in front of the New Museum, " that phyllo of ridiculous performance levels "- and now it's been translated into " The Worm, "the animation at the heart of his new show there. The artist's movements animate a digital substitute who looks like a sort of TV host, moving around in his mid-century modern chair, sweating under virtual klieg lights. But while Atkins' body has been supplanted by an avatar, the soundtrack isn't at all retired: just the artist and his mother, made of ones and zeros but all too human.
"Dad didn 't trust him physically," his mother confides in a voiceover. Later, quietly, she said, "I don't really fit the kind of stereotype of being depressed. " We watch the TV host scratching his CGI nose, drags in hischair, crack his fingers; it 's hard to listen to that. "Oh, mom ... " the son - or the avatar replies. Image Atkins at work in a hotel room in Berlin, recording a phone call with his mother while It was equipped with a GoPro camera. Its movements animate the avatar of the "Ver ". Credit ... Ed Atkins
We were making up for over $ 6 in iced coffees on a break from the installation of the New Museum exhibition, titled " Get Life / The work of love . ”Atkins speaks with the same naturalness of poetrymore obscure and newer computer graphics software, and at 38, he still has a baby face, offset by strands of gray hair. It is a face that I know and that I do not know. Most of the time in his art I have seen him behind a computer generated mask.
Most of his ultra-high definition videos feature on stage a single avatar, which the artist puts on like a theatrical costume. Alone in his audio st, he interprets their expressions and movements with prosumer facial recognition technology, sends them through the torments of Grand Guignol and slapstick bullshit, and expresses their poetic s in ghostly voice-overs. They have skin and stubble so convincing it looks kinky, and bruises that glow like puddles after the rain.
The videos have made him one of the most acclaimed artists of his careerre. generation. Barely in his twenties, he had solo exhibitions in major museums in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Yet what Atkins reaffirms here at the New Museum - where his exhibit includes not only computer-generated videos, but also painting, poetry, and even embroidery - is that the old 'intersection of art and technology 'could hardly be less interesting to him. What really drives him are love and boredom, terror and regret: the lasting emotions that our technologies cannot contain.
" The work may appear to be exclusively related to these technological issues, and has been associated with terms like ' post-internet " said Laura McLean-Ferris , the chief curator of the Swiss Institute in the East Village, who followed the work of Atkins for a decade. “While these forms of media are very important aspects of the work, Ed also has a very strong literary quality, which may have been missed before. They are driven by an uncontrollable and unruly heartbreak, and somehow escape from work. " Video
A music video by Ed Atkins, " The Worm "(2021). Credit Credit ... Ed Atkins, New Museum and Nokia Bell Labs / Experiences in Art and Technologies
“Much of the work , towards the beginning, was emerging from my father's death, "Atkins now reflects. “You still have a body, and it will die, and you will die. Nothing changes about that ... "- and he points to my iPhone, faithfully recording our conversation, instantly converting our speech into a good enough written tranion.
Atkins grew up in a village outside of Oxford, where his father worked as a graphic designer and his mother as a high school art teacher. " Painting and more classic stuff abounded home "he said, " and it was sort of inevitable that I would end up going to art school. "But he isalso absorbed by the cinema, in particular the dark and comical animations of the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer , and even more by the postmodern pyrotechnic literature of Donald Bar thelme and Robert Coover .
He graduated from the Slade School of Art in London in 2009, and in the same year his father passed away of a cancer. Death, loss, waterlogging, debility: these have haunted his art ever since. In his revolutionary book " Us Dead Talk Love ” (2012), two decapitated heads interview each other on eyelashes, hair follicles, every detail of their missing bodies. Their eyebrows contract. . Their skin shows razor bumps. They speak, in a strange white verse, of flesh and blood that they don't actually have, the "animated excretions of a pair of corpses in a dumb congress. . ”
" Ed 's work was incredibly new and shiny - they looked like CGI paintings of depressed men! "recalls the Anglo-American artist Danielle Dean , who attended art school in London with Atkins. "It was like the experience of going to the movies and being immersed in a digital universe; it all happened in the gallery. I had never seen this level ofaffect before. " Image In " Us Dead Talk Love "(2012), two digital heads interview each other about the bodies they once had - or would have loved have. Credit ... Ed Atkins, dependency, Brussels; Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, Berlin; Cabinet Gallery, London and Gladstone Gallery, New York Image The Faun of Barberini, a Hellenistic sculpture, first appears in "Us Dead Talk Love "and is a leitmotif in the art of Atkins. Credit ... Ed Atkins, dicependance, Brussels; Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, Berlin; Cabinet Gallery, London, and Gladstone Gallery, New York
His avatars are particularly masculine, in particular white, especially English - and often exhibit the familiar emotional blocks of this subclass. "Help me communicate without debasement, honey " begs the avatar in " Ribbons ” (2014): a drunk skinhead, collapsed on pints beer, who coughs and burps but also sings a beautiful piece of Bach (in the voice of Atkins). " Old Food, seen at the last Biennale of Venice, includes a stunted child who cries riversres during her piano lessons, as if her body was just a bag of tears.
They speak distant, sometimes rude, verses that 'Atkins expresses himself, and in fact, he is as much a writer as an artist. ( "Old Food " is both a video series and a book of prose poetry , and at the New Museum "The Worm " is protected on a sheet embroidered with poetic fragments composed with artificial intelligence.) Depending on your mood, their speeches can break your heart or make you roll your eyes. "It 's tapping into something to do with white identity and masculinity, but not necessarily being very critical about it", observes Dean. "The avatar can be stalled and perfect, but it also allows for moments of the sad and depressed white man who isn 't good enough.n. "
Here's the critical point though: these avatars are not“ characters. ”They have no names, no names. stories, not motivations. (If you go for that sort of thing, I suggest you stick with Netflix.) They look more like containers or receptacles. They are empty shells that Atkins says leave it behind. “Live in places that are too uncomfortable otherwise”. Image For "Ribbons" (2014), Atkins gave his voice to the avatar of a tattooed skinhead, self-loathing but romantic. Credit ... Ed Atkins, dependency, Brussels; Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin; Cabinet Gallery, London, and Gladstone Gallery, New York
They aren't even that fancy on the back - just standard action figures that anyone can buy, animate, and voice from a personal computer. It took me just a minute, scrolling through the ready-made characters in the TurboSquid.com 3D Marketplace, to find the generic avatar of the white type who stars in the 2015 Atkins video "Hoist", moaning an apology and dreaming that a sinkhole will engulf his house. (You can buy it yourself for $ 349.)
The the exact same guy serves as the Atkins avatar in "Safe Conduct ", shown to Gavin Brown 's Enterprise shortly after Brexit, which carries him in a monstrous parody of British Airways safety video. The avatar placing his pOpen his brain and his liver through the airport l detector, the organs falling into the plastic tray with a hilarious squish.
Its use of 'ready-made avatars remind Annlee , the inexpensive Japanese manga character that Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno bought and “released” in 1999. At the Back in the day, these store-bought virtual beings were little more than line drawings. Now they are almost realistic. And Atkins uses his humanity almost, but not quite, as a shield, prison, and funhouse mirror.
"Some of this work is leaning on a dysmorphic issue, ”suggests Atkins. "Or at least an inheritance of disgust with his body, which is certainly part of wanting to use avatars, if I'm honest. I want to perform in all of these things, but I don 't like my body. It kind of comes from my mom, and I know her relationship to her body kind of comes from her mom. It is any pathology. " Image An excerpt from “Safe Conduct” (2016). His only character is an Atkins avatar bought from an online market and then manhandled. Credit ... Ed Atkins, dependency, Brussels; Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin; Cabinet Gallery, London, and Gladstone Gal lery, New York Image The same animation appears in “Hoist” (2015). Atkins avatars are not characters, but empty shells that can be reused from video to video. Credit ... Ed Atkins, dependency, Brussels; Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, Berlin; Cabinet Gallery, London, and Gladstone Gallery, New York
This pathology is certainly present in the new work, which is Atkins 'first video to include a voice other than his own. There is a moving moment, in "The Worm ", when Atkins 'mother remembers dressing up to get her parents ' attention. "It was really to get some sort of, uh, response, I guess," she says cautiously, as Atkins 'reactions appear on a waxy digital puppet. "But also maybe to become, uh, another completely different character.
Like mother, like son. "The reason I want to use this technology is because it bypasses something," he says. "The essential has to be that we can see things through it that would not be available otherwise. Or I would film myself talking to my mom mr. "