Trapped in inexorable loops, Ed Atkins’s digital creations (victims?) have succumbed to forces unnamed and unknown, yielding to a pornography of upset and grief and alarm. They are the subjects of a manipulatively cruel and merciless creator, wholly defined (and confined) by their distress-their ability to move out of the moment has been stripped from them, forced to endlessly dramatise their anguish. A soundtrack of moans and screams, sad piano chords, agonises through the gallery.
A character in Good Wine performs a circular action that is never allowed to be complete-abruptly, a lifetime comes to pass, and the young boy has become a man seemingly beset by disease, crawling to a piano to play out his own dirge. A storm of human figures tumble from the sky, careening into a void, over and over, until end credits roll at ridiculous length, thanking corporate sponsorship and social media platforms (for a production that never quite began). Sandwich ingredients, including baby corpses and human face masks (like cuts of lunch meat) slap onto bread slices, occasionally blasting apart into cross-sectional studies.
Although characters of undeniable artificiality (bodies, yet not bodies) Atkins is able to suggest enough of some real vulnerability and helplessness to provoke in the viewer a pitiable and empathetic response. Just what is Atkins investigating? Perhaps a peculiar modern disorder to serve ourselves up to a digital dimension, cheapen sentiment, indulge our gaudiest behaviour, wilfully surrender to the reduction of algorithm. We allow for a process of consumption, and may have a complicit hand in our own exploitation.A two-tiered rack of costumes from the archives of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, sending out waves of dormant,dusty air, physically dominate the centre of the space, echoing the wardrobe worn by the onscreen avatars. They speak of ghosts and loss, of those who have inhabited them, animated them, and of the yearning towards those who may possess and liven them again, both reproachful and sympathetic towards the poor souls around them, lacking full lives but theatrically hysterical to achieve materiality and fulfilment.Two weeks on, no matter the meaning, I can’t shake off the haunting imagery. Olde Food closed on 2 June, but you can find excerpts from the works online, and I have a few clips at my Instagram account.