Ed Atkins at DHC/ART: Reassessing the Human Condition
April 20— September 3, 2017
DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art
451 and 465 rue Saint Jean, Montreal
Since April 20th, Ed Atkins’ first Canadian show, Modern Piano Music, is on display at DHC/ART foundation in Montreal. The exhibition contains six video installations presenting images realized between 2013 and 2016. All six installations, two of which present Hisser, the same video, makes us feel like we are trapped in a nightmare of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and pop piano music.
Atkins’ uses CGI, a medium usually employed in the entertainment business and associated to the demonstration of technical possibility and special effects, to stage the common actions of his characters, all giving life to his own face and voice. He presents them in melancholic states and often even takes down the fourth wall by making them talk or sing to the visitors, creating a symphony of kitsch songs and stock sound effects.
Every part of the videos starkly induce a peculiar oscillation between the real and the fake and it seems to be precisely the idea directing Atkins’ rhetoric. Confronting our reality to the hyperreal and uncanny images and sounds of sad, injured and sometimes even lost into oblivion characters in the videos, draws us closer to our physical sensations.
The works in Modern Piano Music raise a lot of questions for me about the spirit and the body, in particular their interstitial space and the way they overlap : the interrogative play between material and immaterial, and how those things impact how I feel, how I relate, and how I negotiate the world.
This idea, stated by the exhibition's curator Cheryl Sim in her introduction to the exhibition, expresses the kind of anxiety generated as we meander through the installations at DHC. The synthetically animated bodies and the constructed aspect of the images make us feel uncomfortable as they foil our expectations of such images. The difference between living things and objects is blurred and profoundly disturbing. One may want to relate to Atkins' characters and sympathize with their desperate moods, but the idea that they are, by nature, artificial makes it really unsettling.
Modern Piano Music offers a polysensorial experience which can hardly be defined with words. By putting us face to face with a representation of human scenes experienced by computer-generated characters, Atkins forces us to reflect on our condition. The exhibition leaves us questioning ourselves on a particularly relevant question in today’s transhumanism context of automatization and numeric fetishization: what is it that really makes us human?