In the April edition of DOUBLE FEATURE the SCHIRN is presenting two of he latest works by the British artist Ed Atkins: “Even Pricks” and “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths.” This will be followed by his favorite film “Lancelot du Lac” by Robert Bresson.
The theories of the adherents of the singularity movement around the American inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil have attracted a lot of attention in recent years: the much-invoked singularity is to be understood as the counterpart the current duality between the mind and the machine, and Kurzweil promises, for example, that by 2029 the human brain will no longer be distinguishable from a machine. The promise that is inherent in this creature resulting from a symbiosis is that of immortality and boundless knowledge, and it is not by chance that it is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.
The works by the artist Ed Atkin, who was born in Oxford, England, in 1982, seem to be the melancholy, morbid flip side of this vision. The familiar naturalistic view of an individual in films is translated into the digital in Atkins’s 3-D computer-generated imagery, and yet it clearly remains virtual, cold, and lifeless, despite the impressive technology. In “Even Pricks” (2013), the only surviving trace of the human seems to be an arrhythmic clapping of hands on the soundtrack. It is difficult to summarize what is being depicted: texts reminiscent of action films repeatedly appear in the almost eight-minute collage of images; a chimpanzee unintelligibly philosophizes to himself; a human thumb, staged as a phallus, seals the human organs of perception in a peculiar way and is doused with water.
The artificial quality in Atkins’s works does not seem vigorous and self-confident but rather aimless and caught in melancholy meaninglessness. In “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouth” (2013), a digital being that resembles Atkins himself repeats distant memories of the sunny weather on idle Saturdays spent with friends in a mantra-like way. The work is almost continuously subtitled with stream-of-consciousness texts that are occasionally taken up verbally on the soundtrack, only to abruptly break off. Thus the soundtrack itself recalls a radio that jumps back and forth between different frequencies, blending fragments of music and language.
While Atkins is one of the few video artists who completely distance themselves from what continues to be the popular medium of film material, turning to the creation of digital images and thus leaving behind the material and the physical on the technical level, it is precisely this that again becomes the thematic focus of his works. In previous HD films such as, for example, “Tumor” or the “Death Mask” series, Atkins addresses the subjects of illness, death, as well as the transition from the material to the immaterial. In “Even Pricks” and “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouth” these topics are forcefully shifted into the foreground, not least on a formal level, and therefore prompt one to reflect on emotionality and physicality in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, and at the same time make reference to the imperfection within the perfect digital image and its accompanying illusion.
Following a discussion with the artist, Atkins’s favorite film will be shown: “Lancelot du Lac” (1974) by Robert Bresson. The film relates part of the Arthurian Legend that no longer features in most film adaptations: the mission to bring the Holy Grail to King Arthur has failed, and Lancelot returns to the Round Table with the few surviving knights, where his secret love of the king’s spouse causes a disaster with grave consequences. In its portrayal of the knights, the minimalistically and gorily staged film develops an interesting similarity with Atkins’s digital creatures: like these, the knights no longer to seem to be entirely human and bear comparison to more of a kind of human machine, and in their determined and in part senseless actions they do not at all want to resemble Ray Kurzweil’s optimistic man-machines.