The living image of Ed Atkins. Tackling modern society with a posthuman creation

“Help me communicate without debasement, darling.”

Through an artistic technique that could be considered principally posthuman, Ed Atkins tries to tackle the societal and emotional problems of modern-day man, where a capitalist-gotten-out-of-hand lifestyle leads to existential problems, loneliness and a new type of individualism enhances communication difficulties. I believe his work is a good example of the dualisms in posthumanist thought, since Atkins actually uses digital art as a means of communicating his concerns about contemporary identity and communicative issues in the posthuman-era human. He is the creator of a person (if the protagonist of his art is material or immaterial is debatable) without natural means and solely through digitalized signals (CGI). This person is a white, naked man, and is supposed to represent a generic type of human, who is living a desillusioned life, which Atkins created for him. He represents the living image, the uncanny and the dehumanized society. Not only the comments, the filmic environment, narrative context or the explanations of the artist himself help the viewer to understand this (hyper/sur)reality, but also the pure aesthetic of this body. He is perfect, young, muscular, perhaps a utopian version of the artist. This body could be real and living, since it uncannily resembles an organic, real-life human being. But the digitalized image, pixelated on our screens, prove this is not the case. He is blurred, unreal in his reality and his communicative movements are similar to ours, but still unknown to us. The way he breathes, his face and mouth expressions while sharing his deep dark thoughts, the sterile way in which his limbs seem disconnected to his (digital) ‘brain signals’ while speaking/thinking, these are all indications of the uncanny. By reflecting these effects in the digital body, Atkins creates a posthuman metaphor for a dehumanized society, where a natural way of communication between human beings/bodies seems to have dissappeared or become more difficult due to (bio-)technological novelties. He creates an avatar for ‘the enhanced posthuman man’ with a digital art – which means he uses the positive effects of our posthumanist technological age – to show us the consequences of such a world and to communicate the “shock of the new” to his viewers.

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4 Comments on "The living image of Ed Atkins. Tackling modern society with a posthuman creation"

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Eva Krarup
Eva Krarup

Really interesting post, I think the video by Atkins raises some of the same questions as the French author Michel Houllebecq’s “The Possibility of an Island” in which uses a future scenario with a generation of clones to dive into the imagination of the posthuman condition as one that will free us from the existential troubles that we deal with in our societies today, maybe you would be interested in reading that one too. Both artists seem rather disillusioned in that regard, though.

Asker Bryld Staunæs
Asker Bryld Staunæs
Interesting, but I can’t help but wonder: Is a posthuman avatar of a white, perfect, young, muscular man, who is at the same time delusional, rabbling and sad, especially posthuman? The character seems always Hemmingway’sk to me and I can’t quite grasp how an ‘avatarizing’ of the character changes that – if that is the point? Is it because the relation between illusion and reality collapses? And if that is so, couldn’t that point be made by the characters alcohol intake? At a late night pub, it would be easy to find someone who fulfilled these characteristics: “He is blurred,… Read more »