Ed Atkins premieres a new project at the New Museum

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Ed Atkins premieres a new project at the New Museum
Ed Atkins, The Worm, 2021 (production still). Video projection with sound, 12:40 min. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned and produced by the New Museum and Nokia Bell Labs / Experiments in Art and Technologies.

NEW YORK, NY.- Over the past decade, Ed Atkins (b. 1982, Oxford, United Kingdom) has created a complex body of work that considers the relationship between the corporeal and the digital, the ordinary and the uncanny, through highdefinition computer-generated (CG) animations, theatrical environments, elliptical writings, and syncopated sound montages. With these filmic and text-based artworks, Atkins tracks forms of feeling, living, and communicating hidden behind or curtailed by technological representation, which unfold into sensitive and often somber narratives.

At the New Museum, Atkins premieres a new project that focuses on the ways bodies and technologies are intertwined, particularly in the field of digital communication and telepresence. As always in Atkins’s work, technology is analyzed as a theoretical and even allegorical interrogation of itself, rather than in any literal terms.

Installed in the Museum’s Fourth Floor gallery, the exhibition debuts a new body of work made with technologies that profess to “capture” life. The central piece of the exhibition is a CG animation recorded using motion- and facial-capture technologies documenting an interview between the artist and his mother, which was shot in the months of lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the video the artist’s features are translated into those of a digital alter ego, inevitably raising questions about authenticity and sophistication, while suggesting that electronic avatars might be capable of developing personal relationships and forms of affection.

Weaving together a variety of references—ranging from British playwright Dennis Potter’s last televised interview, to English philosopher Gillian Rose’s memoir Love’s Work, to autobiographical digressions—the exhibition composes what the artist describes as an “essay about distance.” The exhibition reflects on the ways in which technologies designed to facilitate connection and representation paradoxically expose loss and underscore separation.

The newly commissioned video is presented within an estranged domestic scene of wooden panels, embroideries, paintings, and text compositions—the latter made in collaboration with the anonymous author project, Contemporary Art Writing Daily. The embroideries incorporate an alphabetized version of the diary kept by the artist’s father as he was dying of cancer and a series of texts written by GPT-3, an Artificial Intelligence language prediction model that the artist fed with writings by French playwright Antonin Artaud and Japanese court lady Sei Shonagon.

This ensemble of works not only probes certain limits of communication and empathy; it also reimagines constituent technologies simultaneously as forms of comfort and existential threat. Combining computer data and concrete matter, Atkins tests the borders of digital simulation and proximity, looking at how technology both mediates intimacy and shapes human relationships. “I think of it as augmented and simulated sentiment, comparing and supplementing it with those objects and materials we might more familiarly expect to surrogate our love,” the artist explains.

“Get Life/Love’s Work” has been commissioned as part of a series of partnerships developed in collaboration with scientists, engineers, and researchers from the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) program at Nokia Bell Labs. Inspired by the pioneering legacy of E.A.T., the series aims to channel the interdisciplinary spirit initiated in the 1960s by Bell Labs engineers in collaboration with artists such as John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Marta Minujín, Robert Rauschenberg, and Stan VanDerBeek, among others.

“Get Life/Love’s Work” is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the New Museum. The catalogue includes an interview with the artist, conducted by Gioni, a conversation between Julie Martin and Madeline Weisburg, and newly commissioned texts by Erika Balsom and Mark Leckey.

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