If older artist-filmmakers like Tacita Dean bemoan the difficulty of working in the tactile, tangible, yet increasingly obsolete medium of cine film, the focus for younger artists is now on the possibilities of video. With high-definition cameras, projectors and digital editing now easily available, a different kind of video image has become possible; and Ed Atkins is one of those artists busy figuring out what that image might yield.
Atkins’s ‘A Tumour (In English)’ might be exquisite in its HD detail, but the immaterial, bodiless precision of the video’s technology is what the content sets itself against – the notion of flesh and corporeality being central to its fractured narrative. The tumour of the title appears as a sort of malignant metaphor within the visual language, itself a disorientating, rapid edit of semi-abstract computer-generated visual sequences, coupled closely to sounds, music samples, subtitles and voiceovers, all hinting at some little spot, growing larger but always evading clear sight.
Visible and invisible, inside and out, meaning and its absence – Atkins deploys the cipher of the tumour as something which both disrupts usual structures of narrative (or of the body), just as it brings us back to the basic fleshy materiality of human existence (or the physical presence of the video). In an accompanying booklet, Atkins pursues this idea at length, setting his tumorous concept to work on the act of reading. (The more we read, the more it grows.)
Atkins’s extreme polarisations of materiality, textuality and virtualilty are a smart blend of current theoretical and philosophical attitudes towards consciousness, embodied subjectivity and the (disembodied) culture of digital images. The trouble is that while forging a vigorous visual language to represent these ideas, Atkins never quite gets over them: stuck with trying to make images more bodily, he seems in danger of reducing consciousness to mere matter – from images without bodies to bodies without images.