Ed Atkins at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery
While Marina Abramović is busy with one of her long durational performance art pieces at the Serpentine Gallery, where the central elements of the composition are the human bodies that randomly shift through the exhibition themselves, renowned video artist Ed Atkins has set up at the Sackler, the Serpentine gallery’s sister outlet across the road.
As before, the artist uses a digitally created avatar, the central character in an animation that is displayed on several screens throughout the gallery space. The rooms have been darkened to create a sinister mood, accentuated by the curious angled lighting that adds to the odd, dream-like atmosphere. The walls are decorated with cryptic, nonsensical texts and cartoonish drawings or sketches of strange forms, with two side screens displaying a digitally rendered severed head rolling down an endless flight of stairs, like an Aztec human sacrifical offering.
Further in, larger projection screens exhibit Ribbons – the artist’s latest multi-screen video work consisting of the above-mentioned avatar uttering obscure phrases or singing drunkenly among empty beer glasses to various songs as if it were a karaoke night. The soundtrack that fills the gallery is an unsettling mix of pop music, the artist’s murmuring voice, and swells of orchestra. Here and there, prints of the avatar’s shell have been hung up like animal skins, as if the digital alter-ego of the artist had burst open and filled the rooms with its nightmarish contents. Like a dream, Atkins seems to be using the computer-generated model as a surrogate, that transports the viewer through the enigmatic subconscious of the artist. The show is an interesting, albeit unpleasant complement to Abramović’s more spiritual exploration of the human psyche. While in the latter’s piece the viewer is used as an active participant in the creation of art, Atkins is less inclusive. His pliable, uncanny digital surrogate has been designed instead to remind the spectator of their own physicality.
The curators have succeeded in balancing the two quite different types of artistic expression: the two artists acting as poles – Abramović positive, Atkins negative – that seek to explore the infinite possibilities connected with the human mind and body.
Ed Atkins is at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 25th August 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.