I’m Ed Atkins and I’m a person who often makes more or less immersive, computer generated videos that attempt to speak about some of the aspects of life as conspicuously remediated by contemporary digital technologies and how that remediation inflects the way we feel, for good or ill. I also write, in a manner similarly overtly modulated by digital technology – reflexively so, so that the work I make becomes both a meditation on and a perspective from within, the computer. Insofar as these positions are in practice inseparable, I’d like to think of my pieces as incorporated, in the fullest sense of the word.
Late last year I was invited to come up with a new project for the Manchester International Festival 2015. The particular history and role of contemporary art within the festival is discernible, with a clear emphasis on the temporary nature of the festival, a format that lends itself to performance, to live-ness and transience – to the sensation of something manifest solely over the duration of the festival.
One of the things that has fascinated me for a while now are the limits of computer generated representation – specifically the representation of persons, with ‘representation’ to be understood in a fully expanded semantics, to include the gamut across appearance, sensation, politics; an impossible task that more interestingly might speak those things that are left out of the representation and why. Performance – of the technology, the representation, and the person extra to the representation – is a crucial concept across these relations, and here I would similarly want to understand ‘performance’ fully figured, inclusive of practical, theatrical performance – as well as Butlerian performativity; agency, sincerity, pain. Previous work of mine has regularly used something commonly referred to as Motion Capture technology. The equipment I’ve previously used might at best be described as pro-sumer – a Microsoft Kinect camera, a laptop and an anglepoise lamp – but it’s proven a singularly effective mode of performance, for both concisely conveying my expressions beneath the CGI rig – and maintaining an overt artificiality; the inescapable fact that, regardless of the fidelity of the CGI, what you’re looking at is not real – able to uncannily relay my performance in some ways, and utterly stifling it in others.
‘Performance Capture’ is a project that, in its final iteration, will be a solely computer-generated, feature-length video soliloquy, delivered by a single protagonist performed by over 100 people. It will serve as both an unprecedented work of digital performance, and as an esoteric and unique document of this year’s festival. The video will be produced over the course of the festival.
Taking place at the Manchester Art Gallery, ‘Performance Capture’ is a public exhibition that will break down the constituent processes that go into the making of a computer-generated video; a behind the scenes that viewers can enter and witness first hand processes that are usually the sole prevail of DVD bonuses: a chance to see who and what lurks beneath the rendered veneer of computer generated Imagery.
The term ‘Performance Capture’ denotes the hard- and soft-wares that record and map the movements of a performer onto a computer generated model – a figure who can then become the digital double of the original performer. The performance that is tracked can be inclusive of almost every conspicuous aspect of the performer: the face, the body, feet, hands, eyes – every movement. In order to make the final computer generated figure as convincing and as faithful to the original performance as possible, in this project we will try to capture everything.
Practically, ‘Performance Capture’, over the course of the festival, will be made up of three distinct rooms:
Room 1 will be the performance space: the gallery where visitors will see participants from across the festival, be fitted and rigged and clad in full body motion capture suits (essentially particular clothing covered in sensors) and be directed by me, Ed Atkins, from a script excerpted into one or two minute chunks. A specific stage, sensors, cameras and microphones will more or less forensically capture the performance 1 – technicians will monitor the process, and the audience will be privy to everything.
Visitors can then walk through to a room containing a render farm – an array 2 of computer servers dedicatedly slaving away, converting the data from the performances captured in the first room, into directions for a computer generated figure’s movements 3; a figure who will be the sole protagonist of the video and an avatar of every performer. These computers will be rendering the detail, the hair, the skin’s follicles, moisture, increasingly decrepit clothing. These computers, this render farm, will be performing too; a performance tested by how convincing the figure appears – how successful the dissimulation, even as one might understand it as such. Sound will also be added to the footage in the second room, along with some laborious cleaning up of the captured data – puckering slackened lips; fixing skidding footsteps; rogue information will be excised and flourishes of excessive realism will be added. A rough cut will be made. Every performance will haunt and animate the avatar.
Finally, the last room is a screening room, where the ever-accumulating, fully rendered footage will be projected. The audience will be able to see the video grow, performance by performance, each consecutively occupying a single avatar. The final, feature-length video will be as if a monologue – a soliloquy delivered by one figure occupied by countless different performers.
It’s important to stress that the performers will not be filmed in a conventional sense. Their likenesses will only exist as a series of commands for avatar, signals to animate it. Notably, the performer’s voices will remain faithful, unaltered – the sole facet of the performer that will remain as such. In a way, this is the crux of the project: what is it that remains once shunted through the capturing and re-presenting technologies of the computer?
I’ve written the script to reflect this, to speak of the possibilities and paranoia concerning representation; to meditate on the sensations and significations of being captured, figured, rendered; of performance – unisonous, capitulative, coherent, determined – and its role within all aspects of our social existence. The language of the script will reflect this – this and the myriad different identities barely contained within the figure – divided, conflicted. The figure’s appearance 4 will be an emotional and political response to the various homogenising attempts made on us, and how we might properly encounter and perhaps resist them.
1. hands & face
4. final performance video
A disclaimer isn’t something I would usually consider, regardless of the changes made to a project. The nature of these sorts of experiments is that they will change more or less dramatically before completion. Performance Capture is, however, unique insofar as it’s a work that only really exists after the fact. Over the course of the festival it is being made – whatever that ‘it’ turns out to be. Therefore lots of the information on this site was always going to be speculative. Optimistic, to be sure, tho certainly realistic, given the information we – the team behind it – were working on. Things have changed, however – and in ways that are, in fact, entirely concomitant with the concepts and formal logics at work within the project. Most conspicuously, certain of the technologies that we began working with have been jettisoned. Mainly because they were not capable of reproducing the kind of nuances performances I had conceived the work as having to have. It’s ironic, really, as the things we have shed, kit-wise, are some of the more exclusive and industrial pieces of hardware: the stuff that promised the most amazing performance; the stuff that is, usually, the sole prevail of Hollywood and multi-million dollar budgets. For example, the full-body capturing, in the end, felt incapable of creating a sufficiently recognisable, empathetic representation. Similarly the original face-capturing hardware. Both of these technologies had formed the bedrock of the project and what we thought was achievable. In the end, however, we have gone with hardware that manages to convey more accurately, and more movingly, essential aspects of the participant’s performances. Namely the face and hands, those loci of expression. Part of the project is a critical perspective on technologies of remediation: those things that promise to represent, whether that representation is an image or a politics. That certain technologies were not up to the task affirms an insistence implicit in Performance Capture: that there is an irrecuperable aspect to mortal, incorporated life – things about us that cannot be reproduced, used, essentialised. The failure of the tech is the success of our discretion, our antagonism.
Ed Atkins is one of the most prominent artists of his generation, working in video, sound, drawing and writing to develop a discourse around Definition, thinking through digital media's apparent immateriality in relation to its possibilities for precise representations of the physical – and specifically corporeal – world. Cadavers often appear in the videos as surrogates for this dialogue and its implicit subject. The process of making is tangible in each work, creating an awareness in the viewer of the surface of the image and the presence of the apparatuses used to produce it.
This spring he presented his largest exhibition to date, Recent Ouija, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He was also included in Surround Audience: The New Museum Triennial, New York. Later this year, he will premiere his commission for the Manchester International Festival, Performance Capture, at the Manchester Art Gallery, and present a new work at the Istanbul Biennial. This summer he'll begin a DAAD artist-in-residence scholarship in Berlin.
Last year he held solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle Zurich; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, and with Bruce Nauman at Kunsthalle Mainz. He was also included in the following group exhibitions; Teen Paranormal Romance at Renaissance Institute, Chicago; Biennale of Moving Image, Centre d’Art Contemporaire, Geneva; Europe Europe at Astrup Fearnley Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo; and 14 Rooms at Art Basel, Basel.
Atkins graduated with an MA from the Slade School of Art in 2009, and was selected for New Contemporaries in 2010. In 2011 he was included in the group exhibition Time Again at SculptureCentre, New York; co-organised A Dying Artist at The ICA, London; was shortlisted for the Jarman Award, and held a solo show at Cabinet Gallery, London. In the same year he presented a new commission for Frieze Film and Channel 4; and a solo presentation for Art Now at Tate Britain entitled A Tumour (In English); collaborated on a new live event with Haroon Mirza and James Richards in Times Square, New York for Performa 11 entitled An Echo Button. In 2012 he presented solo projects Us Dead Talk Love at Chisenhale Gallery, London, Ein Tumor auf Deutsch at Bonn Kunstverein and Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths at Isabella Bortolozzi Gallerie, Berlin.
In 2014 two books were published of his work, A Seer Reader by Koenig Books and Ed Atkins by JRP Ringier. He is a lecturer at Goldsmiths College in London, and is represented by Cabinet Gallery, London, Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York, and Dépendance, Brussels.
Ed Atkins Director
Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival and Manchester Art Gallery.Supported by MIF Commissioning Circle. Curated by Ed Atkins, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Alex Poots.Presented at Manchester Art Gallery as part of Manchester International Festival, 4 – 19 July 2015.
FOR MANCHESTER INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
Paul Clay Executive Producer
Pollyanna Clayton-Stamm Consultant Curator, Producer
Patrick French Assistant Producer
Alan Carradus Production & Stage Manager
Rebecca Jenner Assistant Stage Manager
FOR MANCHESTER ART GALLERY
Natasha Howes Senior Curator, Exhibitions
Catriona Morgan Operations Manager
Shay Dawes Audio Visual Technician
Adam Butler Conservation Technician
Martin Grimes Web Manager
FOR STUDIO DISTRACT
Steve Hanton Managing Director
Neil Porter Production Manager
Emily Harvey Production Assistant
Abhinav Goel Mocap Supervisor
Peter Chapman Technical Director
Patrick Bucknall Technical Supervisor
Morgan Henty Simulation Artist
George Bright Character Modeller
Phillip Black, Jake Love, Romain Poure, Tom Priest 3D Artists
Lauren Auty Concept Artist
VOLUNTEERS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF SALFORD
Max Baxter, Al Shady Conteh, Piotr Kotlarek, Emily Noble, Joshua Oluwasakin, Gregory RaysonShun Romario, Romario Santos, Evi Stamtsi, Yana Velikova, Jake Whittle, Daniela Yovova
DBN Lighting Ltd
JGL Decorating Manchester Light & Stage Tube UK Ltd
Tom Antell Noel Clueit
Adam Thirlwell, Sally-Ginger Brockbank, Martin McGeown, Andrew Wheatley, Freddie CheckettsDarrell Crowther, Mike Sperlinger, Adam Sinclair, Joe Luna, Simon Thompson, Rebecca Kressley
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