Ed Atkins is a multimedia artist whose primary means of expression is high-definition 3D animation. His strange, psychedelic and almost psychotic eponymous solo exhibition at the Serpentine uses a CGI avatar, ‘Dave’, as a performing protagonist who appears across multiple screens across the gallery. Dave, or dismembered parts of his body, is/are scattered throughout the show: a surprisingly bloodless head dropping down stairs, a piece of a torso mounted MDF board accompanied by poetry, a drunk resting on a table with a glass of booze and never-ending cigarette in hand – Dave is everywhere. His naked body appears with scrawled black marks that verge between poorly made tattoos and reminder notes. Dave is a bald, at times menacing, extreme drinker who revels in his own gratuitous self-effacing dialogue. His story is not narrated; his dialogue is without reason. He is an abstract fantastical character intent on creating a submersing and chaotic environment without any clear purpose.
Currently hosting the largest UK exhibition to date of work by Atkins, the Serpentine hosted a poetry reading by the artist at Smiljan Radi pavilion on July 11th complement the solo show, integrating sounds, drinks and props found in the his animated videos.
Atkin’s vividly animated avatar performs and harmonises throughout ‘Ribbons’ (2014), a three channel video piece that forms the core of the exhibition. Part of the allure of the work is that it’s impossible to place. ‘Ribbons’ is part music video, part horror story, part sound poetry, and totally over the top. In some ways Atkins is updating several of the curatorial coordinates mapped by Mathew Barney in his Cremaster Cycle series – through autobiography, fantastical alternate realities, the use of screens as sculptural interventions, and most notably by displaying components of the film in the form of props through out the gallery – but for the most part Atkins is creating his own haunting metaverse where the visitor is forced to come face to face with the artist’s digital surrogate.
The video channels that make up ‘Ribbons’ and their accompanying speakers are configured in an intriguing way. Standing at different parts of the show you can view different screens at once or hear different harmonies from different angles. Watching Dave’s mouth is mesmerising and he (Atkins provides the voice and animation), can sing surprisingly well, belting out Henry Purcell’s ‘Tis women makes us love’ (1865), Randy Newman’s ‘I Think it’s Going to Rain Today’ (1968) and songs from Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’ (1727). The effect is eerie, and the mixture of tunes is both comedic and melodramatic.
For all its randomness there are times in which Atkins succeeds in harbouring a unique focus towards the materials he’s digitising. Poured blood, piss and vodka have a globular hyper-defined appearance that is complemented by sounds that are clearer then the glass they land in. Broken glass sounds sharper than if it were on fragmented across pavement. These noises add to the overall ambiance of the show, they serve as an integral facet to Dave’s dialogue: hyper-realistic found-object sound poetry. There is a lack of perceptible clarity in Atkins’ output, as is the case with Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s installations or Ian Cheng’s free-floating balls of assembled 3D matter. This however is a draw, Atkins produces psychedelic immersive digital environments that are striking in their immediacy, not art-historically rooted works.
Atkin’s video practice is complemented by his tact as a writer. He recently concluded his sojourn as artist in residence at the Whitechapel Gallery, and his Serpentine Park Nights event on July 11 featured a poetry reading where the artist voiced several stanzas from the exhibition on repeat. For the completion of the performance, half of the attendees (who were in on the act) harmonised with the artist, providing a surround sound ending to the drink-fueled evening. This emulated the effect achieved by the surround sound in the gallery – not to mention the glasses were the same ones animated in ‘Ribbons’. Much like the secondary semantics of the exhibition, it was the feeling of being in the space that counted. **