A Primer for Cadavers

Ed Atkins

Afterword by Joe Luna

French paperback with flaps, 480 pages
Published 14 September 2016 (UK) | 25 April 2018 (US)

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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]

‘Known for his computer generated imagery, the artist often litters his surrealistic videos with his rapturous poetic speech. Here, however, the book strips us of any visuals and leaves us with the raw textual rhapsody that is elegiac, disturbing, and entertaining. If you’re a fan of the artist, this book is a no-brainer. It resoundingly lets the reader imagine for themselves what Atkins’s garrulous universe looks like.’ 
— Terence Trouillot, Artnet

‘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 Copenhagen. In recent years he has presented solo shows at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, Castello di Rivoli in Turin, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and Serpentine Gallery in London, among others. His artwork is the subject of several monographs, and his writing has appeared in October, Texte zur Kunst, frieze, The White Review, Hi Zero and EROS Journal. A Primer for Cadavers, his first collection, was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2016.

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