A Primer for Cadavers

Ed Atkins

Afterword by Joe Luna

Published 14 September 2016, French paperback with flaps, 480 pages

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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORK

Dears

Millions of urgent, mega-bereaved children will hurl wills wedged inside denuded plastic bottles and at cursed lakes forever choked with same,
     X. A little later, after-hours, lining the shore they’re, um, perfectly normally reflexively force-gagging one another with forebear’s forefingers – which come in stiff pairings (snapped off at the love), tightly parcelled in red paisley bandanas that are now, we understand, browning and sodden with an unchecked gravy of same,
     X.

Said ramming home so said summoning asphyxial opinions and sadly so soon after our super-hot bodies disentangled,
     X. My mind is in your crotch,
     X, while I sit staring at this piano’s tremendously INTELLIGIBLE anachronisms; the acceptance of this pen’s disabilities; the blithe arrogance of a fat analogue wristwatch,
     X. Conservatively speaking, the machine-chamfered tools of late phallic whittling abound and universally, so honestly,
     X, very much capable of honing any stubborn shape into the absolute SPIT. Normally, blunt knives designed as such and held just so for really wholesome bruising, in the main (a particular pedagogic method: firm, spheroidal fruit wielded inside ivory, Egyptian cotton pillowcases). So very nearly a joke, right? A cut, then, is only WORRIED into the world once weeks are spent on one rose-maddening patch of WINNING inner thigh, which, er, resembles nothing so incisive as the act of a blade, but rather ripping or snagging of clumsy child portions from a dim source with your monstrous fingernails,
     X – under which we will retrieve dark evidence of that vast out-of-town mattress of toxic green moss and a lover’s forensic picnic at the site thereof, comprising Alertec® ‘corroborated’ by kale and vivid yellow slime-mould, right? Recuperated, if needs be, post mortem. That’s a threat. Hence the urgency around will penning, if law is to be so very previous.

Other weeks the whole thing just feels so, um, dumbly squandered on worthily enervated abstinence; your sole vignetted eye kept till bloodshot and weeping on today’s such-and-such remedial shrine, fucktard. Remember,
     X: everything here is edible; the keys, the shiny red car, the ring fingers, the police, those sad looking people queuing at maybe a product launch over there; the very tarmac, the very overcast sky – the very shit unfurling so conventionally down your leg. All of it perfectly cooked sous vide and in thin black bin bags secreted behind the wainscot and with zingy rats slashed and wrung out, concentrated – reduced – under really not the whole world’s scrutinizing gaze by that haunted dog,
     X: apparently readily available at the deli counter in enormous, autocratic supermarkets, which I can totally believe.

It can take years to reach a wrong full term, I guess. Also, please excuse the quiet. Excuse the quiet in here. Caught between discounted stud-walls where eloquent, eminent agonisms once rehearsed for avid audiences who fucking owned the subtleties of understanding. Quarrels that danced slow and deliberate into a love already defoliated of all the travesty-heart-shaped and weaponized amplification equipment. And notably angry vestigial language delivered from vulgar podia, erupting as ‘red’ from one of the five or six noise-making rifts I seldom though now envisaging quality hecklers of this unwaveringly dysmorphic façade. Well, my darling interlocutory passerine, who tenderly repossesses the sorely possessed over and over and through a mouth rapaciously giving out entire hissing summers of wet green noise to drown out nothing so much as ignorance,
     X, which tends to the long-dead blue-sky-thinking thaumaturges, whose blood is now so despoiled of oxygen they may as well be forcibly identified as dreaming acanthuses, leaves carefully lifted in the already known to be futile hunt for a pair of jewel-like lungs or simply something recognizable as genitals.

Generally speaking there’s been no DEARTHS identified with acceptance: of and under those factory-distressed clothes distressingly haired moles skin tagging and slowly peeling back in awkward equivalence to nictitating membranes, only without eyes to ‘get at’; all the better to prevent cowardice being rehomed ahead of more deserving, tax-paying parties – such as your terrifying, mercenary sensibility,
     X – which no doubt the very headwater of your historic ALONE. Better to gag again,
     X; better to express when you’re considerably dissembled; virtually deformed by the absence of sensory testimony and into some sort of mythical – declawed – Monster of the Text, executed in long-handed blue-blood rope burn. So seeping out from the cuffs, the dock and the cute courthouse.

Whip pan to interior: this very real, tight bedsit, door bolted – and we might consider those two or three rectangular electrical recta that are getting busy the moment, merrily disgorging dark, rich, beautifully observed and oversized severed heads of handsome MEN – one by one and interminably; each emergent identikit countenance a stunning, flickering pageant of fucking superlative psychic expression! Most of which super-referents you’re oblivious to,
     X, and how sad you might feel if that too weren’t a sensation out-performed with more coherent BRIO than you had thought attainable and not, of course, save for the shining, grinning plastic craw. O! the shame that flushes your system arrives simultaneously alongside a total disinterest concerning each expression’s unimpeachable, tear-jerk humanity, which makes the whole rig seem irreproachable, really. Enviable certitude presented similarly irrefutably – benchmarking and desktop delimiting the vernacular of possible/impossible experience and its insufficient representation. As in: what will suffice to prevent disastrous interpretative divergence? – The judicious application of exclamation marks? A deft shuffle of enthusiastic dark-haired auditionee surrogates? (A proxy for tears is creditable,
     X, but of loving blood-stifled collapsing chest-cavity wha?)
     The Mirror Stage retrieved at last, taken away from those principled elephants and great apes of flattering anthropomorphism, gifted with calm irresponsibly to the exposure-wrecked pigeons, staggering out from beneath frowning underpasses, feet eroded by sustained contact with fried chicken and potato guano, exhausted; soft skulls poison-shrunk from olid and discarded black seed on spiked sills, or the swing of dull, unchecked toddler’s fat leg. And it dawns: slowly rising flocks, the SMUT OF THE SUN, as if a beak could crack a smile over a thousand years. And here lies hope,
     X: The London Met, humbled, hats off, numbers I don’t even need to see with water-cannoned eyes. And it isn’t, um, beautiful but instead monstrous, the heraldic crest of a troll emblazoned on everyone’s tongues to lick past wounds because they taste groundingly cheap.

Desperate regurgitation the denial of this economy’s omnipresence, even if and simply semantically. All there is left for me, gesture-wise, is the rejection of a huge thumb forcibly grafted for fingered value picked like a scab from the shea-buttered surface of every single plush tendril coming from your wondrous being,
     X. The only way in which figuration is DE-violated and molecular-level insubordination could possibly repair otherness is how I just now liked to think as a description of love,
     X. And fleeting: a bridge formed by leaping jets of whetted electrical current, subsequently misting in the blinding sunlight. The turning-down of productive, progressive use with just a cuddle,
     X? Otherwise we might just fucking forget it and deservedly decamp: rejection the sole property of spirit-levelled sense-makers and, um, your home,
     X, which is reaffirmed as a limited capacity pine lung stowed beneath sea-level. No one hears you,
     X. Though my searing wish would be to join you in there; with you and up against you. An unfettered pair of dampening husks curled together like savoured and pre-sucked Pringles. With somehow our lips and ears enfolded for whispering in circular breaths,
     X, and aimless affirmatory conjurations and memories lisped with precise neurological terminology to simply galvanize the inaccuracy inside our heads and more than likely, tomorrow, as our brains turn to sparkling mush without curtains drawn and finally come together. Murmured try-outs of proper synonyms for love.
     As in: I love you,
     X. (Self-chiding for retarded vocabulary where it really counts: sighed into your face,
     X. There’s an idea that adequate performance recognition is the line of contingency for affective conveyance,
     X – whereas it’s v. clear that the irreproachability of you, sung to the moon in one of those perma-wilting falsettos, yields something that returns you to your embodied self, which gets loved as such and like a rash.)
     Ergo, kisses possible not just for lips relish but applied thwarting warring apparatuses and rather than the tart foley of bullet on plate metal or breeze-block, sound-tracking instead in an orgy of agonistic stringed instruments bowed with taught and very willing vermilion guts and discordance is cherished. LIKED.
     The need is unquestionable, though occasionally attempted dismissal with that self-same stately wave of the hand that labels evil though never inside of a young head. Ribbons of ticker-taped loathing drift down to no ground, remember? Like air-to-air ruination.
     Will you write to me,
     X? I will seldom respond, if ever. As wherever I go, there I am: beneath beneath beneath, sucker-punch doubled-over into stress positioned speech in nasty unisons – some benevolent thing seeming-listening with stupid honourable prosthetic ears while from the mouth a few inches down and degrees perfect rotation: a vituperative, electrical bugged buzz-hole both sooth-says all this unreal and unmeant encouragement while through an adjacent hot air vent sucking correspondent oxygen (which I require for living,
     X) from my lungs well in advance of the hopeful trachea, the plucky larynx, the dewy-eyed tongue and comedy teeth, all earnestly poised to pronounce, errm, the simple possibilities of disliking anything but in supra-agreement, etc. And what if I want to disavow the possibility of abundantly replacing an experience with some Legion other’s mediated imagery?

One of the most widely celebrated artists of his generation, Ed Atkins makes videos, draws, and writes, developing a complex and deeply figured discourse around definition, wherein the impossibilities for sufficient representations of the physical, specifically corporeal, world — from computer generated imagery to bathetic poetry — are hysterically rehearsed.
     A Primer for Cadavers, a startlingly original first collection, brings together a selection of his texts from 2010 to 2016. ‘Part prose-poetry, part theatrical direction, part script-work, part dream-work,’ writes Joe Luna in his afterword, ‘Atkins’ texts present something as fantastic and commonplace as the record of a creation, the diary of a writer glued to the screen of their own production, an elegiac, erotic Frankenstein for the twenty-first century.’

‘Discomfited by being a seer as much as an elective mute, Ed Atkins, with his mind on our crotch, careens between plainsong and unrequited romantic muttering. Alert to galactic signals from some unfathomable pre-human history, vexed by a potentially inhuman future, all the while tracking our desperate right now, he do masculinity in different voices – and everything in the vicinity shimmers, ominously.’
— Bruce Hainley, author of Under the Sign of [sic]

‘How can cadavers seem so alive, speak so eloquently? Atkins’ prose is urgent, sometimes even breathless, seeming to stumble over its own material conditions. His is a unique voice that captures a truly embodied intelligence.’
— David Joselit, author of After Art

‘Atkins’ writing spores from the body, scraping through life matter’s nervous stuff, leaving us agitated and eager. What’s appealed to us is an odd mix of mimetic futures. Cancer exists, tattoos, squids, and kissing exist – all felt in the mouth as pulsing questions.’
— Holly Pester, author of Go to reception and ask for Sara in red felt tip

‘If you had to pick one artist currently having a profound impact on his contemporaries, you would have to choose Ed Atkins… He programmes almost all his computer animation himself and writes exceptional stream-of consciousness poetry that feeds into his works.’
— Francesca Gavin, Dazed and Confused

‘Few young artists so instinctively grasp the zeitgeist as does Ed Atkins. In his films, computer-rendered avatars overflow with emotional monologues, and a virtuoso digital aesthetic is undercut by a fixation on flesh – death and decay are recurrent subjects.’
— Martin Herbert, Artforum

‘For writing which is so dense, so thickened, it moves quickly. It has the vertigo effect of the comments thread which has spiralled out of control, drawing our eye down the page quicker than we can take it in. Sometimes it says “etc.” simply, perhaps, because it does not have time to draw breath. That is also part of why it never finds the bottom, never settles for the worst, any more than it allows itself to be entirely intoxicated with its own motile, palpable, extraordinary pleasures.’
— Mike Sperlinger, Professor of Theory and Writing, Kunstakadamiet Oslo

‘I overheard someone say that Atkins’s installations are hard to like but impossible to forget. It’s not often that contemporary art scares me – but this sure did.’
— Daniel Birnbaum, director of Moderna Museet

‘Everything here lives in the uncanny valley, that strange space of revulsion that holds the almost human – what’s us, but not quite.’
— Leslie Jamison, Parkett

A Primer for Cadavers is a book I have been waiting for – Ed Atkins is one of the great artists and writers of our time. He draws attention to the ways in which we perceive, communicate and filter information by combining layered images with incomplete fragments of speech, subtitles, drawing and handwriting. He describes this approach as “an attempt to address the body hole, rather than privilege sight [or] hearing… the work finding its home within the body of the reader”. It underscores the ambivalent relationship that exists between real and virtual objects, between real and virtual conditions and between us and our virtual selves. A Primer for Cadavers is a brilliant book!’
— Hans Ulrich Obrist, author of Ways of Curating

‘Ed Atkins knows that “your body is deaf, mute, dumb, and, more, importantly, dangerous. No use talking to it, is there? Anyways, it’s busy.” Isn’t it weird to have a busy body, especially one distributed on many “platforms”, across media? In his writing, Atkins slows down that preoccupied body, puts it back together, thrusts it into the “imaginative context” of “particularly effusive relations”, murders it, zombifies it, tears it apart again in that old medium of the written word. He puts it on trial, he writes, but finds that it in turn tries him. File your amicus curaie. We all stand with him.’
— Andrew Durbin, author of Mature Themes

‘When it is, in years to be, that Ed Atkins incarnates his own adjective, aspects of the definition (high, low and all points in between) so laid down will dwell in part on this – (t)his fascination with how we tell the world through a medium that is not the world.’
— Gareth Evans, writer and curator

‘Ed Atkins comes across as a writer who makes art. His body of work includes screenplays, audio, and videos that are the visual equivalent of a poem: sentences of image and sound are layered rhythmically, punctuated by repeated motifs.’
— Kathy Noble, Art Review

‘Atkins’s arcane “Squinting through a prism of tears” audiovisual poetry, with its Ballardian bouquets of language, is impossible to imagine coming from any other time than Right Now. After watching one of his shorts you may have a sense of being touched in an obscure spot that you did not know existed.’
— Nick Pinkerton, Artforum

Ed Atkins is a British artist based in Berlin. In recent years, he has presented solo shows at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, and MoMA PS1 in New York, among others. His writing has appeared in October, Texte zur Kunst, frieze, The White Review, Hi Zero and EROS Journal. A Primer for Cadavers is his first collection.

Joe Luna writes poetry and critical prose out of Brighton, UK. He teaches literature at the University of Sussex.