Ed Atkins is a sculptor who works in two-dimensional format. Scratch that. Ed Atkins, is a sculptor who works within a three-dimensional virtual format which is then experienced or read, two-dimensionally. He interacts within the human construct by using likeness, voice, and text as his medium. It is through resemblance and vocal rendering that we, the viewers, are manipulated into his tightly woven web of coding. Language, is a medium. It is spun, woven, painted, sculpted and digitally constructed within a realm all Atkins own. In fact, the ‘realm’ is a vacant, blank space, a non-identifiable non-landscape, color plane where his constructed ‘every man’ exists.
Originally conceived for the 2015 Manchester International Festival, “Performance Capture” (2015/2016) on view at The Kitchen is a new iteration. Using performance capture technology, the artist worked with 100 human subjects, each reading a section of a script written specifically for this project. The technology recorded their facial expressions, voice intonations and hand gestures and they were, in turn, downloaded, into the figure that Atkins has created. Doing so, has made the character 100 people confined to one body. Each person, with their individuality joins to become part of one -virtual- body, and a male identified body at that. Delving into the realm of representation, or rather the antithesis of representation, each identity has been cloned, through vocal recording and facial recognition. The body we see is an amalgamated avatar and just like the vocal notations, facial expressions once confined to an individual, are now universal. As some artists reach for a pen or paper, Atkins has delved into the fingerprints of what makes us each unique but stripped of memory and familiar body structure. It is the ultimate doppelgänger of nothingness, a proposal of existence and the allusion of reality, with a singular amputated body.
Beyond the fragmented, sculpted script being recited, the figure who is the star of “Performance Capture” has been unfortunately struck with “Digital measles.” Throughout the full duration of 1 hour and 40 minute sequence, this fractured, computer generated body slowly shows evident signs of disease. The skin becomes blotchy, eyes glazed and bloodshot. Even teeth, which in the first half glisten white and cavity free (yes, it’s possible to see inside his mouth), gradually yellow, appearing stained. The transformation is both subtle and rapid, shocking nonetheless as the figure initially strapping although disjointed, is wrecked with illness. Upon closer inspection of the script which has been printed and available to those who visit. There is an autobiographical riddle hidden in the words. The artist’s use of language is both fluid as it is poetically divisive. In excerpt:
And gobbets of identity studded my innards / Routed entire limbs, whole systems, never / Breaking the surface / But properly strip-mined the interior. / And contracted, UM, phantasmal ludic self / Through brush contact / Touches, shared paddles and suckers and / Molar-pulped white lolly / -Gagged stick and spatula lickers / And all the lumpy foam and mount-board weapons.
All of me / Wholly fingered / Crowded erotic shimmer / Picked out sunlight dapples: / Conducted by the myriad cores, each some / Split-kindling russet baby, abandoned / More than once. / And in the woods, with / Well-opened skulls and quailed / In bowers of pine LEGS and the / Backyard grass clippings.
There is a particular tone of violence and sexuality in his words. Innocence of childhood explored, violated, pleasured. The text leads us, via subtitles that flash across the bottom of the screen as they are recited. Then all at once it moves from nostalgic regard to a contemporary web search.
Behind the scenes I unthinking / Keyed in utterly / Wrong search terms. Words / Sprung like absurd flashbang stunner / Shunts to totally eclipse the intended. / Tic-writing, the deleting also part of the rhythm / That asserted itself all the way from lunatic / Providence to lodge asif perverse mantra / To be rehearsed, typed and deleted, over and over.
We watch the rendered body, projected onto the screen narrating this story that is at once a Google search, a mash-up of language and then a text, a poem, cache. Is the figure and sentimentality that we project onto it, actually cache, storage on a hard drive that is meant to be deleted?
It’s as if the “digital measles” could be a computer virus, just slowly destroying what is before us, but somehow it seems to be so much more. It is AIDS or cancer, a repercussion for unbeknownst behavior. Well, maybe behavior that is obvious, a vice. Before there were hackers, there was cancer. AIDS was officially named after computers started crashing. The concept of a virus, is that it destroys something else from the inside out, funneled, whether through wires or veins. Ryan White lived five years beyond his six-month diagnosis of AIDS in 1984 and as a hemophiliac infected through a blood transfusion, changed the public perception of the disease in the United States by giving a face and a voice to the illness. The Morris worm, introduced in 1988, by Robert Tappan Morris at MIT, was initially meant to ‘measure the internet.’ From wikipedia: “…a computer could be infected multiple times and each additional process would slow the machine down, eventually to the point of being unusable.” These ‘viruses’ although different in scope, have similar results on the body, made of flesh or metal.
More from Ed Atkins script on “Performance Capture” (2015/2016):
-Did you mean / To break the tech with your face? / Dodge, burn and / Sponge, asshole. /Then come back to me, my love.
This shit costs an absolute fortune / And we are merely sponsees. / Usually this shit is the sole prevail of Hollywood. / Usually this crap is the sole prevail of Andy Serkis. / Your face determines that the trampling’ll be / Heavier, the rendering / Slower, more ponderous, less detail, more / Cleanup / As the farm tries to, um, DESCRY arse / From elbow and wringer right thru them / Anyways.
Here he is back in the present. Time shifts and is malleable within the script. In the present, he is using Photoshop, adjusting the digital representation of a loved one. The face itself, a likeness of reality captured in Pixels, can be weighted based on the size of the file. Physical human weight can be mimicked inside the digital realm as transferred by the weight of a file, size of the memory and speed of a hard drive. Watching the death or illness within the unknown realm of a digitally rendered character, brought to life by those in an audition process, still is painful to observe and carries a significant level of expectation within this strange territory.
Finally / If a mouse had gotten behind the alter / And ate the wafter-Host / Would the resulting mouse droppings have been / God? / Should the priest then go about and / Eat them?
This HAS happened, so it is a serious question.
Ed Atkins, “Performance Capture” in on view at The Kitchen from April 13th through May 14th. Several performances are scheduled throughout the duration of the screening, be sure to check the website for the schedule. “Performance Capture” was curated by Tim Griffin and Lumi Tan as part of “From Minimalism into Algorithm.”
Katy Diamond Hamer is the Founding Editor of Eyes Towards the Dove. She attended the opening night performance of Atkins exhibition at The Kitchen which featured a live soundtrack by Okkyyung Lee, Ches Smith and Ben Vida. Follow her on Instagram @katyhamer