The first work I saw by Ed Atkins was Happy Birthday (2014). The sight of the alarmingly realistic head sliding out of the waves is hard to forget. His people are CGI surrogates, blemish free for ever, although they sometimes disintegrate. The work has always been dark, now it is pitch black.
This show is called ‘Olde Food’ and we see sandwiches of little CG babies being assembled. Having been squirted with lurid yellow sauce or even more disgusting brownish gunk, they then come apart so that they float merrily towards the skies. In medieval churches we see depictions of hell fire in which scores of little bodies are pitched head first into the flames. Atkins gives us a post-consumerist equivalent in which pitchforks have been replaced by hamburger buns.
The medieval analogies are referred to in the text pieces. We are given a vivid description of the effects of diet on the bodies of the serfs in those days. We see a hooded old man with a scabrous and reddened faces who weeps incessantly.
But the suggestion is that our world also involves serfdom. It is arguable that as we gaze interminably at those screens and buy more and more licenses, palpably we own less and less. Furthermore our personal data is busily being collected and exploited. And so, however much we prance and shake, we will all fall back into that pile of bodies. The message is grim but the art is brilliant.
Ed Atkins ‘Olde Food’ is at Cabinet at 132 Tyers Street, SE11 until 2 June.