Ed Atkins

08.18.14

Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 13 minutes 18 seconds.


As Ed Atkins sees it, high-definition video is nightmarish if not deathlike because of the way its technology inherently privileges representation and image over character, narrative, and human emotion. His three-channel video Ribbons, 2014, which is currently on view at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until August 25, 2014, as well as at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris until September 7, 2014, presents a premonitory picture of a late-capitalist society—part horror, part musical, and part melodrama—via the story of a CGI avatar called Dave. Here, on the occasion of Artforum’s summer issue focusing on animation, the London-based artist discusses this work.

RIBBONS is still something I’m not entirely sure how to talk about. It’s a particularly complex and horrible film—what it seems to propose or diagnose or perform is very, very sad, I think. One of my prevailing thoughts was to pursue those excessive echelons of capitalist aesthetics to a properly toxic level, employing a swathe of images, devices, and tics that are clearly violent and obscene. Imagine a film of capitalism, but exceeding its gestures, sprinting ahead of its forms and dictates, to a place where they’re denuded—where you can see them for what they are while being nostalgically drawn to their familiar manipulations, too.

And of course, the protagonist would have to be Dave, a white, straight, Western man: the protagonist of capitalism. Dave is pathetic and repulsive but also deeply, wrenchingly empathetic. He should be recognizable to most people who’ll see the show. His appeal for sympathy is one I might make at my lowest, most mindlessly fulfilling my type: how helpless he is in his determined privilege, and how that’s recuperated as a kind of outrage, terribly. It’s complicated: He is romantic, as if that solves anything. He is manically depressive, as if that were solely symptomatic. He self-loathes, harms and pleads, too. He drinks and smokes and sings and emotes—and it’s all so obscene, excessive, and artificial.

Mortality isn’t in the video. It’s everything and everywhere outside of it, and thankfully so. The videos viscerally address it through their technology. But precisely because they are so totally disembodied themselves, they act as excessive illustrations of bodily and material stuff: from Dave and his drinking—to sex, physics, lens flares, focus pulling, dust motes. The videos demonstrate their limit. Ribbons is, really, like some unholy demo for an occult videogame.

Technology is always pushing to be construed as magic, right? Ribbons is so much a caricature of analogue things—capital in particular, at that point where commodities insinuate and confuse themselves with subjects. Most technical devices are made to fake the prior analogue, material things—and in so doing annulling the possibility of those things ever actually being mistaken for their analogue. CGI in particular can’t help reveal its fallacy by demonstrating its capability to its limit. In multiplex cinema, the camera swings impossibly around its subject; robots deconstruct themselves—fucking robots! Forensic fucking detail, pushing the envelope until, invariably, the edge is found and the whole thing comes unstuck, is seen. It’s uncanny only if you spot that hem, that edge where reality falls away and you’re left with verisimilitude, believability, life-likeness—all words predicated on their obverse being sufficiently noted to the point of aborting their aspirations.

This is all horror, I suppose—horror being the most discernible, legible genre. I can really fucking read horror—and I know exactly how to respond correctly—like nothing else. And the horror, as above, of these kinds of capital aesthetics of advertising, lifestyle, fix and pummeling is played out to its voided end—hopefully, to the voided end of those aesthetics and their shitty assurances.

— As told to Allese Thomson