Black Sun, White Hole: Melancholia in Ed Atkins’s Hisser

May 16, 2017

Ed Atkins: Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition Ed Atkins: Modern Piano Music. These concepts are liquid, melancholia, text, and body/violence.

Content: Melancholia

Where does this black sun come from? Out of what eerie galaxy do its invisible, lethargic rays reach me, pinning me down to the ground, to my bed, compelling me to silence, to renunciation? (…) I am trying to address an abyss of sorrow, a noncommunicable grief that at times, and often on a long-term basis, lays claims upon us to the extent of having us loose all interest in words, actions, and even life itself.

Julia Kristeva, Black Sun, 1992

Full moon. Open to a lit television screen, placed on the floor of a suburban bedroom that evokes adolescence. On the screen: white emptiness, luminescent. On the walls, a terribly banal poster of Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s Tournée du Chat. Another poster, of a wolf’s head that reads “No Fear”, and another, a kitten hanging from a tree branch: “Hang in there”. The camera pans over a bookshelf, our eye rests on a self-help book, a quest for love: Find the Love of Your Life After Fifty! Confusion: the bedroom of a teenager or a middle-aged man? A return to something lost?

We move across the screen and enter this infinite white space and find a nude, miniature figure of a man: he mutters, whistles, stammers: I think I ran out of things to say… pretty sure I don’t know what to say… I don’t know what to say… I’m sorry…. sorry… sorry… I didn’t know, I didn’t know… Defeated, he disappears in the whiteness, then is off in a smoky grey cloud.

CUT TO – There he is, in the giant room, in the single bed of a child, dreaming. A damaged avatar, his face covered in bruises. Strange… a sculpted ear on the wall beside the bed: in the hopes of being heard? He mumbles in his troubled sleep: When we… when we… were… wolves. Fuck it! A puff of black smoke.

The room is empty. The camera pulls back. The room becomes a dollhouse décor. A downwards movement is set in motion, a grating sound evoking an elevator. The room descends, towards an abyss. The room multiplies, plummeting ever more quickly. An empty room sinking, sinking, over and over again.

CUT TO – The avatar lying on the bed, singing to the moon: I didn’t know, I was asleep, I didn’t know, I went too deep, It took me so long… CUT TO – the avatar lying on the floor in the foetal position, singing: I did not know, her life was so sad, I cried…

CUT TO – the avatar on the ground, hunched over the white television screen, looking at black card after black card.

Returning to the empty room, it shakes violently, everything crumbles: cardboard decor, cardboard flowers, CGI. Lights are out, all that is left is the reflection of the moon, then all is black. A fist breaks through the wall.

Birds eye view. A cardboard room, a miniature cardboard avatar in the bed. Everything is swallowed up by a black hole, a vortex of white rays, everything accelerates, then a CGI ocean.


In the work of Ed Atkins, emotions are not simply psychological states experienced internally. They materialize via gestures, movements, words, and the appearance of avatars’ bodies in relationship to their surroundings. Discuss the ways in which this manifests itself in the various works in the exhibition.

Ed Atkins’s videos confront us with the sentimental, the emotional, the bodily. Choose one work in the exhibition and respond to it with an experimental or poetic text. What does the experience do for you?

Marie-Hélène Lemaire
DHC/ART Education

Image credit: Ed Atkins, Hisser (video still), 2015. Video projection with 5.1 surround sound. Courtesy of Ed Atkins and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome.