Ed Atkins is one of the most distinctive and important artists of his generation. Following on from major exhibitions at The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Serpentine in London, Castello di Rivoli in Turin, and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, among others, Kunsthaus Bregenz
presents Atkins’ first exhibition in Austria, and his largest solo presentation to date.
Atkins is an artist who makes videos, writes and draws, developing a complex and deeply figured discourse around definition, wherein the impossibilities for sufficient representations of the physical, specifically corporeal, world — from computer generated imagery (CGI) to bathetic poetry — are hysterically rehearsed. Atkins’ works often centres on an unidentified figure, a kind of surrogate for the artist, who is animated by Atkins’ own performance. The figure is to be found in situations of everyday despair, anxiety, frustration and pitch comedy.
Atkins’ works are steeped in sentimentality. Sadness, beauty and transformation occur with the speed of paranoiac thought. Striking images, familiar musical phrases or poignant pleas are cut, ruined or denied at the last minute. Traces of profound affection and interrupted empathy linger. It is such sensation that makes Atkins' works so striking; an artificial realism and romantic lushness that models feelings often inexpressible in real life.
On the ground floor of KUB, the multiple-channel video work Safe Conduct confronts visitors with a lunatic burlesque of airport security instruction videos. A grimly comic dance for one escalates in time with the mechanical mania of Ravel’s Bolero. Safe Conduct is a carousel of protocol, of rendered bodies, abattoirs and metal detectors. The title conjures a parlance of specious administrative directives; an exceptional state-administered document that affords protection to the carrier, as well as the autobiography of the Russian poet, Boris Pasternak, also titled Safe Conduct.
Old Food, a body of works that expands with each iteration, sprawls across the first floor. Here, Atkins transports us to a pseudo-historic world of peasantry, bucolic landscapes and eternal ruin. Characters weep continuously, their lives devoid of dramatic redemption; a looping piano motif haunts the space; crowds of people plummet while credits roll; and inedible, impossible sandwiches assemble and collapse in lurid advertisements. Countless costumes from the Vorarlberger Landestheater and the Bregenz Festival’s wardrobes are on display in the manner of their storage, hemming in the audience, underscoring the absence of bodies and the ways in which history is attempted dramatically redeemed, through mythologising, fictional romanticism.
The video works on the upper floors of KUB push the exhibition into a more nocturnal, dream-like place; a more domestic kind of life is worried into animated paranoia. Repeated across multiple projections, Hisser cowers. We encounter our protagonist in his Ikea-choked bedroom during a never-ending night, suspended as he is in a disastrous, fugue-state loop of loneliness and confusion from which there is only one horrifying means of escape. Above that, on the top floor, the paean to lost love, dementia and digits, Happy Birthday!! peters out, stops, and starts again. Like everything in Atkins’ exhibition, media is made metaphor: videos repeat themselves as if their memory were painfully short-term; CGI figures cry and plea, even as the source of their upset is lost forever.
In both its presence and iconic architecture, Kunsthaus Bregenz provides the ideal setting for Ed Atkins’ artificially generated realism. Produced exclusively using CGI, everything in Atkins’ exhibition is understood as fake: nostalgia, history, progress, authentic life, identity.
Ed Atkins (born 1982, United Kingdom) lives and works in Berlin and Copenhagen.
Solo presentations include Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; MMK Frankfurt; DHC /ART, Montréal (all 2017); Castello di Rivoli and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; The Kitchen, New York (2016); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015), The Serpentine Gallery, London (2014); and The Chisenhale Gallery (2012).
An anthology of his texts, A Primer for Cadavers, was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2016, and an extensive artist’s monograph from Skira was published in 2017.
In early 2019 Ed Atkins will have exhibitions at K21, Düsseldorf, and Kunsthaus Bregenz. His novel, Old Food, will be published in November 2019.