Ed Atkins, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, (11 June – 25 August 2014), Photograph © 2014 READS

Ed Atkins, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, (11 June – 25 August 2014), Photograph © 2014 READS

You know that feeling, when emotions rise like the level of water in a well and you don’t yet know whether you will drown or not. The exhibition at the Sacker Serpentine Gallery by the young British artist, Ed Atkins, is an immersive and subversive experience of extraordinary proportions.

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Ed Atkins, Stills from the three-channel HD video Ribbons (2014) © 2014 Ed Atkins, Courtesy of CABINET, London and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

Born in 1982, Ed Atkins is the typical product of a British society of violent extremes, swaying between the sublimation of beauty and self-hatred. On the ragged edges of history, an island trapped in pride, pity and prejudice produces artists of uncommon sincerity (except Damien Hearst).

Ed Atkins uses the language of his generation, the moving images, the nihilism, the excessive drinking, the poignancy, the extreme tenderness and disillusion.

It would not do the 32 year-old justice to say that he is a video artist. I prefer to call him a sculptor of words: he uses a sublime and disturbing avatar to express in crisp and disturbing images the chaos of his thoughts and elaborate feelings.

High definition allows Atkins to transpose those sensations into time. He takes us where no artist has ever taken us before.

But there is no narcissism. This, perhaps, is what makes him so English.

So does his choirboy ability to plunge us into the cathedral of our hollow souls. In Ribbons, the magisterial summer Serpentine installation, he establishes a sadistic-masochistic relationship that is not dissimilar to what religion is all about.

I found it impossible to tear myself away. Even music alone cannot give me the intensity of emotion that I felt before Atkin’s prête-images.

At Art Basel in June, I had experienced the same sense of attraction/repulsion. Of all the 14 rooms orchestrated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach in celebration of performance art, No-one is More “Work” than Me, by Ed Atkins was the only one that made me cry.

“Look at me, look at me,” the avatar begged with his beseeching eyes.

RIBBONS - deflated

Ed Atkins, Stills from the three-channel HD video Ribbons (2014) © 2014 Ed Atkins, Courtesy of CABINET, London and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

How did Edward become so wise, so young?

In the inner chamber of the Sackler, Ribbons unfurls as some of the images are repeated on the outer screens and suddenly a  seraphic voice creates the harmony that brings it all together again.

Atkins is the ultimate seducer, because he appears to be so innocent. And his voice is so sweet.

“Don’t die,” he pleads.

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Ed Atkins, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, (11 June – 25 August 2014), Photograph © 2014 READS

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Ed Atkins, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, (11 June – 25 August 2014), Photograph © 2014 READS

Until 24 August 2014.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, trained as a journalist, became an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London before moving to Switzerland, where she now covers the art beat and presides several associations.

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