Ten Art: Ed Atkins
Ed Atkin’s animations have made him one of the most influential voices in a fresh generation of artists mining the brave new digital world. His CGI lost souls, all modelled on the artist’s own features, navigate malleable, anything-goes landscapes, where faces literally crumple and hair floats. Yet everything, from corporate power to our own addictive natures, exerts a subtle control.
“It’s not the tech itself, but rather its misuse,” he says of his dark take on life online. “This is particularly apparent with more insidious things – advertising, cultural consensuses – that really latch on to the new lies possible, particularly around where and what bodies and matter are. Cloud computing’s success is predicated upon the fact that we don’t think about heaving servers in the desert, nor the hobbled bodies, lives in mines, sweatshops and factories behind it.”
Curators at vanguard art spaces, from MoMA’s PS1 to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where the premier art-world tastemaker Beatrix Ruf and one of Atkins’s early champions, has recently been appointed director, are falling over themselves to work with the 33-year-old. This summer, his live motion capture animation studio at the Hans Ulrich Obrist-curated Manchester International Festival, transformed the festival cast and crew before the audience’s eyes. Everyone from Björk to Charlotte Rampling was approached about being poured into a single avatar, in a twisted parody of the pressure to conform. Atkins’s video installations, though, are a one-man affair, tracking a descent into loneliness, frustration and the death of authenticity.
In Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths, a fragmented world of nonsensical phrases-cum-surrealist poetry is spoken by Atkins’s eerily weightless characters, and flashed across the screen on tickertape-style captions. Meanwhile, Happy Birthday!!, included in his hit show at the Stedelijk Museum this spring, features a preppily handsome but insubstantial hunk. He treads a landscape that shifts from wasteland to gallery and clasps a fellow animated man to his breast, but his skin never quite seems to make contact.
Ribbons, on the other hand, gave us an antihero for the Facebook era when it premiered at London’s Serpentine Gallery last year. Here the need to connect is brought to life by a hard-drinking, chain-smoking karaoke-singing voyeur. The kind of guy who needs to let rip via internet trolling, he croons his way through drinking songs from Randy Newman to Bach, pees in his tumbler and pushes his willy through a peephole. Part of the problem for Atkins’s misanthropic bullyboy is that, “there’s nowhere to sufficiently voice descent. Social networks particularly privilege the topiarised identities of witty bons mots and preening selfies.”
The “real” world might seem lost and broken in Atkins’s gravity-defying universe, but his smooth-skinned avatars offer a cry from the void that can’t be ignored.
Text by Skye Sherwin, taken from Issue 42 of 10 Men