After viewing DHC/ART’s latest exhibition, Ed Atkins: Modern Piano Music, one is likely to feel confused, disturbed, and fascinated. Presenting his first exhibition in Canada, the foundation exhibits five of British artist, Ed Atkin’s, videos: Even Pricks (2013), Hisser (2015), Happy Birthday!! (2014), Ribbons (2014) and Safe Conduct (2016). Atkins practices with computer-generated imagery (CGI), presenting analogous realities through the digital realm, using high-definition, which generates a hyper or ultra reality. Appropriating an almost structuralist approach through the inconsistent nature of his (non) narratives, the disrupted and repetitive sounds, bits of dialogue and text, not to mention, the uncanny effect of Dave (his avatar), the videos enable an uncomfortable reception.
The DHC/ART strategically grants each video its own gallery room in which the majority of videos are projected onto a large white sculptural block. This choice of curatorial presentation induces a sense of intimacy, as the viewer is encouraged to sit down and take their time with the videos on loop; each gallery room represents a different digital world. Each of these simulated worlds are explored and experienced through Dave, a repulsive, self-loathing, borderline alcoholic cypher, trapped within his seemingly unstable self. His continuous melancholic and troubled state, however, allows the viewer to empathize with him through his predicaments. Ample with cryptic symbolism, the artist divulges in themes of the melancholic and alienating imprisonment of capitalistic contemporary life.
Happy Birthday!! deconstructs the concept of time through strategies of abstraction. Beginning with a medium close-up shot of the ocean, Dave emerges from the water with a tattoo of the year 2016 on his forehead. He repeats arbitrary years, dates, days of the week, time-related verbs such as “I will”, rendering the semantics meaningless. Simultaneously, snippets of Willie Nelson’s “Always on my Mind,” specifically the chorus, “You are always on my mind,” softly repeats throughout the video. Dave’s repetition of time prompts the viewer to reflect on their own mortal temporality; specifically, the idea of labor-time as an intangible force, which structures and dictates how we organize our daily, weekly, monthly routines.
Hisser exposes Dave’s imprisonment, not only in his bedroom, but also in his psyche through his melancholic state. Taking place at night, Dave spends his time either lying on his bed, singing to himself as he stares at the viewer, sleeps or wanders around his room. Sounds of swallowing, breathing, and indistinct self-conversing are heard, while the echoes of his computer turning on, and the rumbles of a low magnitude earthquake are emitted throughout the video. Displayed on his walls are posters and prints. A poster of a wolf essentially foretells Dave’s death as the quote states: “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure…” Atkins explains that this work was inspired by a true story of a Floridian man whose bedroom fell into a sinkhole and was never found. Correspondingly, Dave eventually falls into a sinkhole, escaping the imprisonment of his bedroom (and his unsound mind) through death.
Similar to Hisser and Happy Birthday!!, the other videos presented are composed with a lack of a linear narrative, repetitious sounds, and forms of puzzling significance waiting to unfold. I highly encourage any curious individual with an interest in the obscurity of the Internet and the digital world to visit the exhibition.
Ed Atkins: Modern Piano Music is at the DHC/ART Foundation from April 20, 2017– September 3, 2017.