The press release opens with a quote from Belgian-born poet Henri Michaux —also included in the exhibition — that says “Born, raised, educated in an exclusively ‘verbal’ milieu and culture, I paint to de-condition myself”.
The theme of the fourth commission in the award’s history is Not One Thing or Another. The two successful applicants will receive £20,000 each to realise a new film work, which will later be exhibited at London’s Jerwood Spacein 2017.
The theme addresses ambiguity, not belonging fully to one single thing, being in between states. It also invites artists to think about video as a medium, about the nature of projection, resolution, focussing and hovering.
Ed Atkins’ ‘Hisser’ is inspired by the true storyof a man in Florida whose bedroom fell into a sinkhole that opened suddenly and was never found.The immersive dimension of the exhibition consists two-channel video with multiple audio channels and mixed media. It presents at Brussel’sdépendance, running October 31 to November 28, and almost constitutes a closed box. Entering the space from the back of the set, the viewer finds themselves facing the double video display, giving it the sense of looking at oneself in the mirror. Before walking in the installation, a quotation by famous American writer and activist Helen Keller -printed on a poster representing a wolf’s head -warns us, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure… Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”.
It is the same poster which is pinned above the bed of the character in the ‘Hisser’ video whose bed (and life) is on the brink of collapse into a sinkhole. Inside, the high definition video plays concurrently on two large projections and shows the inside of a man’s bedroom, which in turn tries to show us the inside of him. The scene takes place at night, windows are opened, curtains are shaken by the wind. The bed is sometimes empty, sometimes occupied by the man in the grip of the sadness, anxiety. Talking to himself, inhaling, panting; sometimes he tries to fall asleep, to calm his spirit. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know”, the digitised voiceover says.
Stretched out with eyes open in his white sheets, sat in front of his bedroom door, or going through forms sketched in ink on pieces of paper like a kind of Rorschach test, we are the whole inside his body, merged with his corporeality, devoured by it. The fuzziness of the image picked up by a subjective camera could be his view blurred by tears. An oppressive sound heard as if underwater could also be his breath. Another sound, of a hard drive or software repeats throughout in the film. We could ourselves become his random access memory.
Realised in CGI and animation, ‘Hisser’ questions the successive breaks at work in the equation of representation and technology. Between full technological power and human failure, ‘Hisser’ shows a character at the heart of a universe of mold-able movie effects, where in their emancipation they are also paradoxically prisoner of themselves; of a human condition, a psychic wandering. If physically this wandering is not limited to the space of the huge white desert landscape where the character finds himself walking naked at the end of the film, it indeed finds its breaking points in the story: when the rooms collapses, when the man kind of cries looking at the viewer from his bed. The video and audio also breaks in the image editing and sound treatment; effects which tremble or split into halves and a sound that is suffocating. It’s a reality which twists itself, which repeats itself, as a mirror of itself as well.
Atkins uses modern tools and forms to produce a film which plays on a tipping point between the ultra-presence of the image and a total wandering; a perdition, a quasi-disappearance of a character in the grip of doubt, fear, loneliness and death. But in spite of this ampleness of device, it makes the process of compassion just as extreme, a kind of existential vacuity persists. Because it is indeed the failure which is at work here. It’s something that is controlled by the digital tool, but how is it embodied in the image? How does the feeling of the protagonist reach us? How can all our psychic suffering -which make us human – be at work in this hyper-realistic representation of this man?
In an2014 interview with Modern Painters Magazine the artist was asked the question of how he came to the hyperreal HD aesthetic for his videos, to which he responded: “It offers some weird possibility for performing the endeavour toward verisimilitude — lifelikeness — while completely falling short or, rather, falling back into image and structure and manipulation and design. It’s this axis of emotion and artifice and performance and power that I’m totally into”. ‘Hisser’ speaks to this ‘verisimilitude’, in a concept of digital i-representativeness, the paradox of the hyper-reality that is somewhere between super-materiality and invisible substance. **
The new exhibition, which takes its title from the name of a fictional, post-iPhone device found in Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 near-future novel Super Sad True Love Story, is about “the mammalian hand, and the tools it touches, holds and uses”. DJ Mike Simonetti will be playing in the Ballroom Marfa courtyard following the opening reception.
“I love internet cafes,” says Natalia Sielewicz through a chuckle, “I have an unhealthy fascination with them”. The curator is in a coffee shop next to a converted furniture sales department store of PRL Poland, that is now, temporarily, the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw where she works. She’s just closed a huge four month programme of exhibitions, performances and talks by artists from around the world called Private Settings, Art After the Internet and if you’re familiar with the art, or just the miscellaneous cities that that art comes from, you’d certainly understand her enthusiasm for the public-private space of the online interface.
You might note that those artists mentioned above are based along the faultline of a ‘global’ network that’s still centered around the traditional economic centres of the US, UK and western Europe. But there’s also the ‘Live Distillation’ (2013) single-channel video-installation from South Africa’s CUSS Group, work by Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Abu Abdallah and a response to Derek Jarman’s 1993 film Blue by Poland’s Gregor Różański. There are a few artists you’d expect to be included that aren’t and even a couple that you wouldn’t that are.
That’s because the conversation going on around Private Settings is more interesting than age groups and vaguely shared aesthetics. With less of the corporate and none of the speculative, the focus of the exhibition is set squarely on interrogating subjectivity and its interaction with the contemporary consumer-focussed, hyper-capitalist milieu of the internet, by extension questioning what exactly ‘post-internet’ as a branded catch-all really represents. That is, post-internet as a contemporary condition that doesn’t just affect those living where the major markets are, while recognising its influence as a hegemonic spread: “Maybe it’s even more honest to speak from this western-centric perspective because we’re not colonising other countries with this hot word in a very ideologically-charged way that’s both socially and geographically placed.”
You mentioned that when curating the show there was less of a focus on the aesthetics associated with this particular generation of artists and more on identity and the body.
Natalia Sielewicz: I started by looking at Private Settings as a space of intimacy, of performing your identity, not only online; also of how there’s this constant feedback between your online space and offline space interacting with each other. I thought that maybe we could define that precisely as ‘private settings’ and ask whether this is specifically domestic space, is it feminised space? Or is it basically a space where all these issues collide with each other?
And an important thing to me was also, not really thinking about ‘private settings’ as privacy settings, all the issues around surveillance and manipulation. Of course, that is also part of the show but what I found more intriguing was how the ‘black mirror’ of your iPhone or your laptop can give an illusion of intimacy, even though we’re constantly performing in a very narcissistic, exhibitionistic way among our peers and on social media.
I think we have to come to a new conclusion on how to define this condition that we live in and how to apply it to different groups of artists, and different media, without sounding crass and without pissing anyone off. Because even some artists who are in the show wouldn’t want be branded as ‘post-internet’, where as maybe there would be a need for some of the Polish artists to be part of the bandwagon. Or maybe not. It’s treacherous ground [laughs].
There’s often a misconception that because something is presented online, that it has some kind of broadened reach. But the internet, and social media specifically, is so personalised, dispersion is so specific. You can post something and assume that everyone will see it, but everyone won’t.
NS: Well, going back to this thread of colonisation, regional colonisation and also social colonisation, after 1989 many former eastern European countries tried to abolish the label of being ‘eastern’, with or without much success. But for at least 10 years the market, the galleries, the institutional shows, everywhere in Europe would really help to colonise eastern European arts of the 90s, or of the early 2000s. The same artists would reappear and it would be something that the later generations would also have to fight against. So maybe it’s just the natural order, but that brings me to this whole conversation about, say, African post-internet art. I’m sure that it would create a scene that will be perceived as, you know, the Nigerian ‘post-internet scene’ of 2015, 2018 [laughs] and maybe that will evolve into something else…
But it’s still a label that’s originated in the west so maybe you’re right in suggesting that it should potentially stay western-centric…
NS: Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about this. There’s such richness in art-making everywhere and there’s such a richness in the internet that’s not western-specific. Maybe we should just let region-specific art flourish without branding it immediately with our Western stamp of evaluation.
I also have a problem with white hegemonic institutions doing there documentA-style research… putting it in neat boxes and categories and high-fiving itself. There is of course the educational potential of that, as long as we allow the subaltern voices to be truly heard, clear and loud.
One of the things that blows my mind, it how impressive Polish graphic design was in the 60s and 70s and how bad it is now. It seems like an extreme reaction to anything that looks vaguely Soviet.
NS: Partially, yeah, that’s a part of it. We have this term that’s called ‘typo polo’…
NS: It reflects the terrible aesthetic of early capitalism from the 90s, where it was basically like GeoCities but in the public sphere. People started opening their own enterprises and small businesses, and when you’d drive on the ‘Route 66’ in Poland you’d see all of these really horrible advertising billboards, with really horrible typography. They’d have company names that stand for a thirst for one’s own first business, or their first million, so anything with a suffix ‘-ex’ or ‘pol’. Like, ‘Natalex’, for Natalia, or ‘Glaspol’; anything that would connote western glamour and success ‘incorporated’, whatever service you’re offering and wherever this service is originating from.
This is actually now fetishised in Poland. You have DJ collectives that play on this trope, what we call the ‘kwejk aesthetic’. Kwejk is a website that’s like 4chan or something but rooted in a Polish aesthetic and Polish domains. It’s really crass and disgusting, quite funny but in a very crude way, and it’s embracing this identity that was really pushed under the carpet for many, many years by intellectual and social elites.
It’s quite interesting how, with modernisation, you have to work with these tensions between your aspirations and retaining your identity, even questioning whether there is such a thing as a core identity of a nation state or a nationality.
That reminds me of those pierogi restaurant chains here, Zapiecek, where the wait staff wear those generic folk outfits…
NS: Well, that’s catered to tourists, right? That happens everywhere. I’m talking about something more ‘street’ and something more rooted in everyday vernacular, of kebabs that are falling apart and underground kiosks near the central railway station…
We had this show at the Museum, which was actually called Typo Polo, and featured graphic design of the 90s from old public services and private businesses and there’s an amazing energy in this abundance and excess. I think it’s really interesting to think about in terms of excess. Because, perversely, and speaking of post-internet, I don’t think it’s dealing with excess, I think it’s trying to contain things and feelings to an object.
It’s interesting to think of ‘typo polo’ as this kind of contemporary folk art. I heard that there’s a similar thing going on with immigrant communities running small businesses in places like Berlin, that this internet café and kebab shop aesthetic is actually tied to identity.
NS: I think that’s what CUSS from South Africa is doing too. It’s a totally different aesthetic but they do in situ projects in internet cafés and I think it’s part of this aestheticisation, or a certain genre of the internet cafe as this transitory place. It’s also sad because here you can’t find them any more.
Speaking of London, it’s like this really clandestine public space, where you’re with other people sending money through Western Union, expats are looking for flats and families from the Middle East are on Skype because they can’t set up a direct debit so they can’t have a BT or Virgin Mobile broadband connection…
But to give you an example of the Polish ‘typo polo’ corporate aesthetic present in, let’s say, Polish post-internet art that I think is happening, is that instead of Red Bull of Fiji water, artists would use Monster Energy drink, or these Polish slippers from the 90s called Kubota [laughs].
I felt like this Private Settings exhibition was a good bookend to thinking about post-internet for 2014, or a significant point of transition at least. The label has already been absorbed as a fashion, there are artists making a lot of money and the brand has been reabsorbed into corporate advertising, even as it has just recently been appropriated from it. But I think the exhibition represents a certain maturity of the themes being explored across its artists.
NS: Well, I wonder if in general that might be a certain perception of post internet as this immature hedonistic youth culture of the present… Of course, I am critical of the show as well, but one thing I really didn’t want to do was replicate the aesthetic, to the point that at one moment I was like, ‘oh my god, this is not looking like post-internet art’ [laughs]. **
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 workis 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. **
As one of the most prominent artists of his generation, Ed Atkins’ work often takes the form of High Definition video and text, subverting the conventions of both literature and moving images, as is the case with his recent and multi-screen video project, Ribbons, which will celebrate its UK premiere at at the gallery.
As the gallery adapts to suit the sub-horror atmosphere of Ribbons, its walls will become submerged in syncopated sounds, bodies, and spaces that explore the ambivalent relationships between reality and its virtual form.
There will also be an introduction to the exhibition, led by curator Lucia Pietroiusti, on June 21.
There’s been much talk around aesthetics and the slick image in art lately and speaking out for the ‘pro’ camp will be the Shimmering World: gloss, sheen and the politics of production values in contemporary culture conference in Manchester on April 25, 2014.
The venue is still yet to be announced but confirmed speakers include Ed Atkins, David Panos, Hannah Sawtell and Tamara Trodd. In the meantime, organisers Paul Clinton and Luke Healey are calling for papers exploring the possibilities of “highly polished modes of production”. Carrying on from Jan Verwoert’s claim of “the dead elegance of the cibachrome print”, they’re welcoming abstracts on the subject, with and from the position of the art object, until close of submissions, January 7.
Right now, the prevalence of HD video is a focus in contemporary art and Southwark’s Jerwood Space is ideal for looking at the way emerging practitioners are using the medium. Tomorrow Never Knows (The Jerwood Film and Video Awards) presents us with a story of twos. There are two artists, Ed Atkins and Naheed Raza, and their two films, ‘Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths’ (2013) and ‘Frozen in Time’ (2013), respectively. They’re presented at an exhibition based on the completion of a two-year cycle, which has seen four moving-image artists compete for the bursary and commissioning fund of £56,000 from Film and Video Umbrella.