The Incomplete Ballad

June 27, 2017

“Bankrupt.” “Don’t die.” “Don’t cry.” These little bits of text are scrawled on the forehead and torso of Dave, Ed Atkins’s avatar/surrogate in his work Ribbons. They also served as the inspiration for Ballad, the Traces public project for the exhibition Modern Piano Music. Ballad consists of an overhead projector, some markers and acetate. The outline of a face is projected onto a blank wall. Visitors are invited to leave a trace in response to the exhibition through a short text that will appear on the projected face. The text will remain for future visitors to read, and becomes a part of the “skin” of this projected silhouette.

Some visitors chose to leave a trace in drawing, others with phrases or words. Some particularly potent examples include:

“Ne pas oublier le hasard…”

“I will not”

“from explosion to visceral touch, there is a reaching, a searching animal, consciousness, confusion, fear and shame… a lion of minuscule protective proportions impregnated with us all – before and after.”

At least, I think that’s what is written. The difficulty in reading and understanding a handwritten text is analogous to the confusion that arises with the often incomplete and sometimes indiscernible soliloquies that emerge from Atkins’s protagonists. There are beginnings of ideas but rarely satisfying conclusions – that is part of the piece. The same thing can be said for Ballad. “I will not” what? What happens if we forget about chance? “Before and after” what? In Atkins’s work, as with Ballad, we are left hanging, with no punch line… or sometimes, with a punch line but no joke. It is that feeling of being incomplete that brings us back for more.

Amanda Beattie
DHC/ART Education

Photo credit: Ed Atkins, Ribbons (image still), 2014. 3-channel HD video with three 4.1 channel surround sound audio, 13 min. Image courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York (cover). Amanda Beattie (Traces).