Ed Atkins - A mixture of prose-poetry, theatrical script and sort-of-stories, Atkins’s Primer is an extraordinary exploration of corporeality, technology and the future of the human race. ‘An elegiac, erotic Frankenstein for the twenty-first century’


Ed Atkins, A Primer for Cadavers, Afterword by Joe Luna, Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2016.


ED ATKINS  interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist


One of the most widely celebrated artists of his generation, Ed Atkins makes videos, draws, and writes, developing a complex and deeply figured discourse around definition, wherein the impossibilities for sufficient representations of the physical, specifically corporeal, world — from computer generated imagery to bathetic poetry — are hysterically rehearsed.
     A Primer for Cadavers, a startlingly original first collection, brings together a selection of his texts from 2010 to 2016. ‘Part prose-poetry, part theatrical direction, part script-work, part dream-work,’ writes Joe Luna in his afterword, ‘Atkins’ texts present something as fantastic and commonplace as the record of a creation, the diary of a writer glued to the screen of their own production, an elegiac, erotic Frankenstein for the twenty-first century.’


‘Discomfited by being a seer as much as an elective mute, Ed Atkins, with his mind on our crotch, careens between plainsong and unrequited romantic muttering. Alert to galactic signals from some unfathomable pre-human history, vexed by a potentially inhuman future, all the while tracking our desperate right now, he do masculinity in different voices – and everything in the vicinity shimmers, ominously.’— Bruce Hainley


‘How can cadavers seem so alive, speak so eloquently? Atkins’ prose is urgent, sometimes even breathless, seeming to stumble over its own material conditions. His is a unique voice that captures a truly embodied intelligence.’ — David Joselit


‘Atkins’ writing spores from the body, scraping through life matter’s nervous stuff, leaving us agitated and eager. What’s appealed to us is an odd mix of mimetic futures. Cancer exists, tattoos, squids, and kissing exist – all felt in the mouth as pulsing questions.’— Holly Pester


‘If you had to pick one artist currently having a profound impact on his contemporaries, you would have to choose Ed Atkins… He programmes almost all his computer animation himself and writes exceptional stream-of consciousness poetry that feeds into his works.’— Francesca Gavin


‘Few young artists so instinctively grasp the zeitgeist as does Ed Atkins. In his films, computer-rendered avatars overflow with emotional monologues, and a virtuoso digital aesthetic is undercut by a fixation on flesh – death and decay are recurrent subjects.’— Martin Herbert


‘For writing which is so dense, so thickened, it moves quickly. It has the vertigo effect of the comments thread which has spiralled out of control, drawing our eye down the page quicker than we can take it in. Sometimes it says “etc.” simply, perhaps, because it does not have time to draw breath. That is also part of why it never finds the bottom, never settles for the worst, any more than it allows itself to be entirely intoxicated with its own motile, palpable, extraordinary pleasures.’— Mike Sperlinger


‘I overheard someone say that Atkins’s installations are hard to like but impossible to forget. It’s not often that contemporary art scares me – but this sure did.’— Daniel Birnbaum


‘Everything here lives in the uncanny valley, that strange space of revulsion that holds the almost human – what’s us, but not quite.’— Leslie Jamison


A Primer for Cadavers is a book I have been waiting for – Ed Atkins is one of the great artists and writers of our time. He draws attention to the ways in which we perceive, communicate and filter information by combining layered images with incomplete fragments of speech, subtitles, drawing and handwriting. He describes this approach as “an attempt to address the body hole, rather than privilege sight [or] hearing… the work finding its home within the body of the reader”. It underscores the ambivalent relationship that exists between real and virtual objects, between real and virtual conditions and between us and our virtual selves. A Primer for Cadavers is a brilliant book!’
Hans Ulrich Obrist


‘Ed Atkins knows that “your body is deaf, mute, dumb, and, more, importantly, dangerous. No use talking to it, is there? Anyways, it’s busy.” Isn’t it weird to have a busy body, especially one distributed on many “platforms”, across media? In his writing, Atkins slows down that preoccupied body, puts it back together, thrusts it into the “imaginative context” of “particularly effusive relations”, murders it, zombifies it, tears it apart again in that old medium of the written word. He puts it on trial, he writes, but finds that it in turn tries him. File your amicus curaie. We all stand with him.’— Andrew Durbin


‘When it is, in years to be, that Ed Atkins incarnates his own adjective, aspects of the definition (high, low and all points in between) so laid down will dwell in part on this – (t)his fascination with how we tell the world through a medium that is not the world.’ — Gareth Evans


‘Ed Atkins comes across as a writer who makes art. His body of work includes screenplays, audio, and videos that are the visual equivalent of a poem: sentences of image and sound are layered rhythmically, punctuated by repeated motifs.’ — Kathy Noble


‘Atkins’s arcane “Squinting through a prism of tears” audiovisual poetry, with its Ballardian bouquets of language, is impossible to imagine coming from any other time than Right Now. After watching one of his shorts you may have a sense of being touched in an obscure spot that you did not know existed.’ — Nick Pinkerton


Ed Atkins is a British artist based in Berlin. In recent years, he has presented solo shows at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, and MoMA PS1 in New York, among others. His writing has appeared in October, Texte zur Kunst, frieze, The White Review, Hi Zero and EROS Journal. A Primer for Cadavers is his first collection.


Image result for Ed Atkins: A Seer Reader,
Ed Atkins: A Seer Reader, Koenig Books, 2015.


This volume presents the titular text by leading UK video artist Ed Atkins (born 1982), well known internationally for his explorations of the impact of high-definition technology, on language and literary comprehension. Curator and academic Mike Sperlinger contributes a text contextualizing Atkins' writing.


Focussing on the artist’s use of language within his practice, A Seer Reader  is both the title of the book and of the new text written by Atkins which also includes his distinctive drawings. In addition, it features a foreword by Serpentine Galleries directors Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist as well as an essay by writer, curator and academic Mike Sperlinger, which explores and contextualises Atkins’ writing.


Technology developments such as High-definition, surround-sound or prosumer means of production brought forward the promise of increasingly realistic depictions of the world. In a somewhat paradoxical way, contemporary visual culture seems progressively dominated by stylised images whose craving towards perfect composition drifts away from reality, creating a visual regime which to a great extent looks more abstract, artificial and flat that one would expect. Current digital technologies are able to produce highly detailed representations of texture and surface but have seemingly lost their material substance as if trapped by the same surface they so accurately portray. Far from the magical transformation of still images into moving pictures, we are now left with the mysteries of invisible data and intangible codes, matter lost to encryption and replaced by flatness and intangibility.

Amidst the range of artists engaging with these dynamics, Ed Atkins has chosen a frontal line of investigation by fully exploring high definition digital technology. Rather than commenting obliquely on these developments, either by reverting to analogue processes or by exploring low-fi or archival digital sources, Atkins explores the immaterial
body of the images first hand, laying bare its or structural elements while manipulating its most visceral organs. In order to rediscover the material possibilities of contemporary audiovisual developments, the artist uses the elasticity and vulnerability of the digital to reconsider the way we interact with visual culture, staging uncanny and liminal spaces on and off screen that are centered around the viewer’s body, hereby seen as a site where the lost corporality of the images may coalesce.
Following Atkins’ line of work the exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery presents moving image installations alongside sculptural sets where still images are displayed in panels and also a new publication—A Seer Reader—which includes an essay by the artist. This combination of different media is a central feature of the artist’s method, reappearing throughout his displays and playing an essential part in the process of retrieving the presumably absent materiality of the digital. The show is anchored around Ribbons (2014) a multi screen High- definition video whose main character is an internet troll. By presenting an online avatar as its central character, Ribbons develops on Atkins’ longstanding interest around the figure of the corpse which permeates his entire body of work. Like the avatar, the cadaver is understood as a hollow container of pure representation without predefined meanings, their emptiness standing as a reminder of our own physical existence. This set of ideas also spills into Atkins’ regular use of stock sound and imagery. Like indexes open to interpretation, stock materials have the ability to be specific in particular contexts but lack any intrinsic signification, being rather vessels of ambiguous connotations. Digital film and video are also seen as deceased bodies having been reduced to mere codes, cinematic carcasses void of material content.
Text is an additional focal point in the artist’s practice and may also be understood as part of his interest in the idea of the cadaver: its dependence on context to produce immaterial representations echoing the digital code in which contemporary images are grounded. The written phrases and voice-overs that populate Atkins videos fiercely incite the viewer’s engagement by triggering tactile perceptions, sound being a further and important instrument in this process. The videos present an elaborate array of bodily and machine-like noises such as whistles or clicks, which bring forward the presence of the apparatus as well as the body behind the camera (or better still the computer) and once more underline our bodily existence. Surround sound is recurrently disrupted by the absence of reverb in the audible breathing and clapping noises while simultaneously sub-bass frequencies penetrate the viewer’s body. The immateriality of sound creates another parallel with the digital code understood as a cadaver: both without visible/ material existence and yet able to produce palpable representations that stimulate corporeal interactions.
In Ed Atkins’ shows the space of display is not transformed into a cinema, there is no safe haven for spectatorship. Instead the exhibition rooms become an immersive set that teases out the potential and limits of technology as well as of human perception and communication. The diagetic and non-diagetic layers of his work merge in order to analyse the material qualities and existential echoes of representational regimes. Classical topics such as death or love are explored in a wide ranging investigation grounded around blurred dichotomies such as body and emotion, text and image, horror and humour, belief and skepticism or dissimulation and illustration. Atkins is a contemporary visual surgeon, resisting the call for perfection and abstraction and preferring to autopsy the dead in order to forcefully revive those still living. - João Laia


High definition videos and B-movie soundtracks; technical effects and cadavers


Interview with Ed Atkins: Cadavers Telling You to Shut Up

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