Critics’ Picks

View of “Ed Atkins,” 2016.

View of “Ed Atkins,” 2016.

New York

Ed Atkins

The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street
April 13–May 14, 2016

A video, an empty stage, and you: These are the things that make Ed Atkins’s show go. For this sparest of installations—which feels radical next to the overbearing clusterfuck exhibitions so au courant these days (Mike Kelley they ain’t)—the artist puts the sprawl where his mouth is and delivers a rollicking, multipronged poem. The video, titled Performance Capture, 2015–16, is a CGI anthology of more than one hundred people tag-teaming parts of a sharply enunciated monologue delivered by a single head and a pair of detached forearms, all floating against a white background. Ostensibly male, the face and hands fade in and out of focus, gesticulating with the flow of the video’s language and changing its facial expression with the subtle intelligence of a true thespian. The face isn’t anyone’s—it’s a composite of all those tensely articulating actors thinking aloud, far and wide, which, again and again, returns to human bodies, animals, digital images, fat, and the rendering they are subjected to.

They exclaim: “My body is precisely NOT here,” and their face looms large, grimacing. They murmur, “if marrow were a grammatical device or a literary mode,” and tiredly remember “getting the feathery cross-hatching around the face bone bits.” We need to make “animals into more useful stuff,” through “a rendering process yield[ing] a fat commodity.” A factory farm renders animals into fatty edibles, or other things we want that can’t bite back. Artists, too, can render any extra fifteen pounds—or minutes—they find lying around into another kind of excess, which can be traded for capital or sent for gutting on the art market’s slaughterhouse floor. But, to paraphrase the video, true rendering is concerned primarily with the look of love.