Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014 @ Palais de Tokyo

Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014

British wonderboy Ed Atkins has an installation at the Palais de Tokyo that anyone who claims to keep up with the art world will need to see. At 32, Atkins has made quite an impression on those who matter with exhibitions at MoMA, a single artist show at the Serpentine’s Sackler Gallery, a solo exhibit at the Tate Modern, the ICA, Venice, and the list goes on. The impressive CV was enough to entice Irina and I to see Bastards following our visit next door to what was, by comparison, the genteel Fontana exhibition.

Still from Ribbons, 2014, by Ed Atkins
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014
Ribbons (2014), adapted for the Palais de Tokyo, is a three channel, high definition video installation in which Atkins explores the latest language in image production. Morphing between filmed footage and digital imagery, Atkins uses everything from traditional video and cinematic strategies —blurring, lens-flares, scratches, sound and image editing — to the latest computer graphics for which he apparently does all his own coding. There’s no doubt that the technical dimension of Atkins work is inspiring. His command of the image and its multi-form production is impressive, speaking to the agility of image integration and technical literacy of his generation. Likewise the form is exciting in its reflection of the way that we receive and process visual information.
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014
Irina and I, two women of a different generation, may not have been able to identify with or in the images, but both of us were convinced that Atkins’ Ribbons was more relevant and more interesting than Godard’s latest film, Adieu au Language (2014), a film we had seen the week before. Atkins, unlike Godard who claims to converse with the latest image technology, actually uses the most contemporary visual and sonic language as he moves in and out of as well as along a spectrum of digital possibilities. Atkins creates a more convincing adieu to language than Godard’s soporific dabble with 3D imaging. Words for Atkins are text messages, made visual before disappearing to be replaced by the next words or image, they are reduced to marginalia, scribbles on a body, snatches of poetry, quotations emptied of meaning, unfinished.
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014
The protagonist — who seems to shift in and out of identification with Atkins is a troll, apparently. But mostly, he is obsessed with his sexuality, distractedly getting involved with those great British pastimes — getting drunk and falling over—until he is deflated, literally, through computer generated animation. The Palais de Tokyo identified the character in the three narratives, on three large discrete screens, his voice resonating through the space, as Atkins. But it isn’t, it’s an actor. Admittedly though, the identity of the actor is not important, in fact, the confusion of identity reinforces the anonymity of the artist. It might as well be Atkins, his alter ego, bellowing with pride and then deflated, defaced or effaced. He is often surrounded by pint glasses, pouring drinks, being drunk, getting high, sticking his tongue, his nose, then later, his penis through a hole, wedging himself under the table. It is all about Atkins even if he is not in the videos.
Image of the exhibition by Ed Atkins 'Bastards'
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014
The sound for the exhibition was brilliant. When Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion was sung, the three voices resonated and intertwined through the sound of the three different screens. And then, at other times, we are completely surrounded by the sound when standing before the screen to which it relates, and there is no interruption of the sound from the other screens. Bach mutates into burps and farts and then Randy Newman who is, in turn, interrupted by email alerts.

If technically Atkins’ installation is brilliant, even mesmerizing, conceptually it lacks maturity. We also become aware of Atkins’ identity through the musings and convolutions of sound and image. With his obsessions of drinking, speaking, fucking, with an occasional search for reality, Ribbons comes across as the work of a young, ego-centric heterosexual artist who does not yet have the depth to allow for the resonance and profundity of those he quotes, such as Blanchot and Lacan. As captivating as it was, the irony wasn’t strong enough to convince me that this is anything but a straight boy’s glib view of the world. Atkins could develop his work in a number of different directions, and his success as an artist will depend on which of these he chooses. But for the moment, to me, he’s still a 32 year old young man with work to do. 

All Images Courtesy of the Artist

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