Ed Atkins makes digital, computer-generated videos that emphatically stress corporal, analogue reality. The videos exhibited at DHC/ART have the startling ability to return us to our bodies despite—or perhaps because of—their bodiless, digital constitution. The animations themselves centre on representations of starkly physical things, sensations, and experiences—a singularly human affective terrain performed by uncannily realistic computer-animated surrogates. In combination with the imposing scale and volume of their installation, an Atkins video can profoundly unsettle the viewer, disturbing the distinction between what is alive and what is not, what moves of its own volition and what is “animated.”
Spanning both 451 and 465 rue Saint-Jean, the works presented at DHC/ART are five of Atkins’s most recent. Ribbons (2014) is a three-channel installation in which a naked, male figure drinks, smokes, sings, and burbles his melancholic self-pity into a whiskey glass that fills and refills with booze, blood, and urine. Falling in and out of synchronicity, the work runs through what might be a night of progressive inebriation, culminating in a particularly deflating rendition of the aria from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. In Hisser (2015) we encounter our protagonist in his bedroom during a never-ending night, held in a disastrous, fugue-state loop of loneliness and confusion from which there is only one horrifying means of escape. Safe Conduct (2016), Atkins’s latest work, is a pitch-black send-up of instructional airport security videos that demonstrates the symbolic violence we are all subjected to for the dubious reasons of security and safety. A ballet of procedural horrors unfurls to the relentless rhythm and slow building lunacy of Ravel’s Boléro.
Through offbeat timing, jump cuts, and a raft of other skewed cinematic tropes, Ed Atkins destabilizes what we presume to understand about audio-visual storytelling. His is a reflexive vernacular built from cinema, television, games, pop music, infomercials, and the hybrid world of the online with its remodelling of our relations via social media. Atkins’s works conjure a delirious portrait of a collective contemporary psyche: dissociative, sociopathic, misanthropic, absurd, desperate, and vulnerable. The fact that the artist lends his voice and facial expressions to each of the surrogates adds to the acute struggle around discernment: the way the various material and dematerialised worlds we all now occupy confuse a coherent sense of self, of what life is, and of how we relate to one another. This is the artist’s first exhibition in Canada.
Curator: Cheryl Sim
DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art
451 & 465, Saint-Jean Street
Montreal Quebec H2Y 2R5 | Canada