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  • Writer's pictureCristea Zhao

11. Ed Atkins @ Kunsthalle Zürich


Ed Atkins,

Ribbons (2014).

3 channel HD video installation, 4:3 in 16:9 with 4.1 surround sound. 14 min.

Courtesy the artist, Cabinet Gallery, London and Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin

Ed Atkins,

Us Dead Talk Love (2012).

2-channel HD video installation 4:3 in 16:9 with 5.1 surround sound, colour.

37 min. 24 sec.

Courtesy the artist, Cabinet Gallery, London and Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin


At the first glance, I probably was not struck by the aesthetic in Ed Atkins’s video works. Moreover, I was even disturbed by it. But later on it’s no longer the case.

These sad, alienated and brute protagonists are highly emotional animated characters seem to be us in representation. They are often engaged in sentimental activities- smoking, drinking, crying, being alone out there monologuing, being too depressed to function… but without any explainary context, their emotions come across staged and performative, which immediately reminded me of Taylor-Wood’s ‘Crying Men’, both works are de-contextrualized and offering an opportunity for mimesis experience: ‘…focuses on our capacity for mimesis, giving us not a subject that is either composed or dissolved, but one which is subject to emotion and suffering and which is tied to the emotion and suffering of others.’(E. Walden)


What made this mimesis experience more complex is the fact that these emotional entities are all CGI characters. In this sense, there’re many layers of imitations adding up to each other- it’s animated video, they’re CGI human, they mimic human emotions. Exactly because of it, the raw emotion of melancholia (or it’s even the affect of melancholia, as for these characters there’s no memories or experience of any feelings could be registered) is underscored- it’s something that purely about the emotion and affect of melancholia. This obscurity of the principle of this alternative animated world, the background of the story or the biography of the character also serve how melancholia works in our psychics- something is missed, but we don’t know what it is.



Ed Atkins,

‘Old Food’, 2017(Installation view first floor)

Kunsthaus Bregenz 2019. Photo: Markus Tretter. Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York / Rom, and dépendance, Brüssel

© Ed Atkins, Kunsthaus Bregenz


Three other crucial components in his work that inspired me. He was greatly interested in language, especially the incapability of language- there’s always a failure in fully representing anything. And he integrate the grammar and syntax of language with video editing. The way grammar and syntax language deploy to constitute meaning is the way video works make sense through montages. Then, in the exhibition ‘Old Food’, he emphasised the absence of the corporal body by showcasing thousands of costume borrowed from the theatre, which made me think how can I foreground the presence of the body and the absence of the body at the same time in my performance. Finally, two-channel work ‘Us Dead Talk Love (2012).’is projected onto two screens, but not fully, as he adjusted the distance and make the margin part of the projection fell out of the screens and casted onto the walls or entrance behind them. Created ‘an ambient sense of space and non-space’. Even though this is referred to the ‘Old Food’ show, in general I think all his exhibitions captured it in the way he chose to present works. Very inspiring!


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