MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst opens exhibition of works by Ed Atkins
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MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst opens exhibition of works by Ed Atkins
Ed Atkins, Hisser, 2015/2017. Exhibition view MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main 2017, Filmstill, Courtesy the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York and dépendance, Brussels, Photo: Axel Schneider.

FRANKFURT.- How do technologization, automatization and digitalization impact our individual life realities? This is the momentous question Ed Atkins (b. in Oxford, GB in 1982) pursues in his extensive presentation at the MMK 1 of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main. Atkins is considered a pioneer of an emerging generation of artists who reflect critically on the rapid development of the digital media and the fundamental changes it has brought about in our perception of images and our own selves. In his digitally generated filmic works, he creates a world of imagery as hyperreal as it is artificial and deeply unsettling in its ambiguous oscillation between perfect simulation and technical flaws. “In a manner that, for all its technical brilliance, is nevertheless treacherous, the work of Ed Atkins touches the ever-so-tender nerve of the post-digital present. No other artist of his generation so aptly grasps the issue of how the digital media have changed our self-conception – shaped, as it is, by the illusion of boundlessness on the one hand and the loss of authenticity on the other. In their visual and acoustic intensity, his digitally generated high-definition realms cast a spell over their viewers and confront them with existential states such as loneliness, alienation and mortality.“, says MMK director Prof. Dr. Susanne Gaensheimer.

In the exhibition, the MMK presents two filmic installations spreading out through several rooms. In them, Atkins has created a virtual protagonist, a kind of alter ego whose profile he continually further develops and who experiences profound crises in artificial worlds. All of the voices heard are Atkins’s voice, and he is the author of all of the texts. He also generated all of his pictorial worlds himself with the available digital means.

The exhibition „Ed Atkins. Corpsing“ is presented within the Frankfurter Positionen – an initiative of the BHF-BANK-Stiftung. “The Ed Atkins exhibition integrates excellently with this years’ Frankfurter Positionen, which is devoted to the theme ‘Self Reloaded – The Subject in the Digital Age’. The contributions to the festival programme all revolve around the issue of how the construction and definition of the self-image is changing in the digital age”, comments Stefan Mumme, the executive and director of the BHF-BANK-Stiftung.

The exhibition title “Corpsing“ references the inherent contradiction of computer-generated simulations. Although they transport the illusion of an independent material world, they are never anything but a construction which technical malfunctions expose as a deception and a mere illustration of reality. The term “corpsing” derives from an expression used in theatre for a phenomenon that has long interested Atkins.

A role played by an actor can never attain the status of an authentic figure but can only “embody” it. “Corpsing” describes the moment in which the difference between the actor and his role comes to light – for example when he forgets his lines or suddenly breaks out laughing.

The exhibition at the MMK 1 is presenting two recent works by the artist – the filmic installation Hisser of 2015/17 and Safe Conduct of 2016 – in unique spatial dimensions. “Hisser“ spreads out over the six rooms making up the first floor of the MMK 1, an area measuring some 800 square metres. Specifically for this space, the artist developed the work into a fivechannel installation and expanded it to its largest dimensions to date. Transposing virtual into real space, the installation makes direct reference to the spatial structure of the first floor and uses the architecture as an integral element. The story told in “Hisser“ was inspired by a true occurrence. In 2013, a young man in Florida was literally “swallowed up by the earth” when a cesspool suddenly opened up under his bedroom. The film’s main setting is a bedroom by night. From the way it was shot, the viewer has the feeling of peering into an abandoned life-size dollhouse. Other sequences show close-up views of a young man lying on a bed with a tormented look on his face or cowering in a corner. The scene is accompanied by an exaggeratedly romantic song whose refrain – “It took me so long to get my feet back off the ground“ – alludes to the loss of a loved one and a sense of abysmal loneliness.

The song’s emotionality contrasts starkly with the artificiality of the scene. The boundary between reproduction and reality grows fluid, and the virtuality – which the artist has carried to a near-perfect extreme – begins to crumble in view of the protagonist’s physical and emotional frailty. Atkins shows us how his protagonist’s world falls down around him and disappears into the absolute void of a digital and dematerialized space. In the process, the artist deconstructs the digital illusion by revealing his filmic medium with simulated image interferences and frequency errors. The film is shown on five free-standing projection surfaces in different rooms, a situation that serves to intensify the pull of the imagery spreading throughout the first floor of the museum and create an agonizing sense of endlessness.

In the work “Safe Conduct“, shown by daylight on three large-scale LED screens, we recognize the same protagonist, now at the conveyor belt of an airport security checkpoint. The digitally generated room is otherwise empty. Piece by piece, the young man divests himself of his travel accessories and clothing, and ultimately begins putting his body parts into the security bin. He pulls off the outer layer of the skin of his face, followed by blood and guts which trickle into the bin along with guns, exotic fruits, and other objects. As in Hisser, the protagonist’s chafed face implies
physical and emotional vulnerability, thus creating the illusion of humanity.

The continual heightening of the events and their absurdity in endless loops is accompanied by Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, which, likewise composed as an infinite loop, was one of the first pieces of modern music to stand for technical progress and modernity. The action and sound level of the work intensify in a circular movement implying the threat of escalation that dissolves again, however, in the constant repetition of the scene. Nothing happens.

“Safe Conduct“ is an obvious critique of the technologized and dehumanized processes of present-day society in which the modern human being is caught up in his/her everyday routine to the point of self-dissolution. Control and loss of the same, safety and its unattainability – Atkins infuses his sceptical worldview with a subtle irony that echoes above all in the title: “safe conduct” is the official term for a travel document granting safe passage through “enemy territory” by circumventing the usual control mechanisms.

Over the past years, Atkins has produced an unparalleled complex of text-based video installations and entered the international limelight with exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Zürich (2014), the MoMA PS1 (2013), Art Now Tate Britain (2011) the Biennale in Istanbul (2015) and elsewhere. In the winter semester of 2016/2017, Ed Atkins is teaching as a guest professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule within the framework of the 2017 Frankfurter Positionen.

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