High definition CGI is not a common presence in the fine art world, and I was surprised to see images of a digitally rendered human figure so prominently displayed at one of the the most important contemporary art galleries in Britain. The troublesome looking young man is an avatar modeled on Ed Atkins, the artist himself. Ed Atkins had somehow slipped my radar, but the more I’ve learned about him the more intrigued I’ve become with his work. His multi-channel installation Ribbons (2014) occupies several spaces and screens in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 25 August. The video follows the protagonist as he drinks, smokes, swears, mutters, gets naked, tries his luck with a glory hole. It is accompanied by large boards bearing blocks of texts with scribbled-in margins, and disturbingly realistic human skins, or UV maps of the avatar, on display like scientific specimens or conquests.
Atkins is skilled in coding, and creating 3D animation, though he did solicit the help of an expert to produce elements like the astoundingly hyper-real render of a whiskey glass that appears in the video. He pushes CGI far enough to remind the viewer that its’ most prized achievement, hyper-realism, undoes itself as, no matter how close the image gets to looking real, it will forever fall short of life. The avatar is so meticulously rendered, and yet so vapid, vacant—he is but a shell of code, stretched over an artificial structure.We see ourselves reflected in him, and but that which becomes apparent is our comparative physicality, flesh and mortality.
Ed Atkins is heavily influenced by literature and poetry and the written word play an important part in his creative process. Here is a beautiful performance of a piece called Depression from last year. If you happen to be in London definitely check out the exhibition, and I’d recommend reading some interviews with him, he is a fascinating artist. Here is a good audio interview recorded at Chisenhale Gallery in 2012.