When you enter the “Old Food” exhibition by Ed Atkins, in Martin Gropius Bau, you could feel a little anxious. A gigantic baby, a foppish boy and a drowned man weeping stare at you so intensely that you cannot ignore them. Just take your eyes off those videos – or at least, you can try. But it won’t work. They continue to snob, drool and eat grotesque sandwiches of shit. What’s going on? Are they asking for your attention? But that’s only the beginning. As you continue following the signals, you will stumble upon something even more disturbing.
A nameless crowd careens down a hole, forever. A looping piano piece is performed in a concrete cell, a hermit’s cot and a bucolic garden in midsummer. Then, credits roll to denote an ending that never begins, and social media corporations sponsor everything. At first, you could think it’s all about someone else’s life. But that’s wrong: Ed Atkins is talking about you. Known as one of the most distinctive artist explicitly responding to digital media’s ever-increasing ubiquity, Atkins creates worlds of crazed artificiality and desperate realism. His animations demonstrate their digital constitution even though they simultaneously show a level of lifelikeness. His works are made to disturb you and get under your skin, rendering a corruption of substance, both material and concept.
That’s the idea that stands behind the exhibition: “old food” means a use squandered, a goodness spoiled. It’s about our “plastic” relation with everything that surrounds us. It’s about our secret desires. It’s about our inner melancholic feels. Atkin’s show is like a mirror where you can deeply explore yourself and realise that everyone hides something behind his smiles. The artist pushes you to entirely manifest your ego. But that’s not all. These videos are installed alongside a vast display of the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s costume archive, presented as “objet trouvé” in the manner in which they are stored. Othello, Macbeth, King Lear and so on. Maybe this could puzzle you, maybe it’s just a way to invite you to read the videos as aspirationally operatic and as compromised historical dream.
“Old Food” is part of the The Berliner Festspiele’s program Immersion, which presents artistic works that often occupy the grey zone between performance and exhibition. And, oh, it will be open until the 17th January 2018.