:: Article

An Edible Flow: Ed Atkins’ Old Food

By Mike Corrao.

Ed Atkins, Old Food (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2019)

Old Food / by Ed Atkins / a contemporary artist / known for his video art / uncanny 3D models and esoteric mutterings / is a compact / dense / hybrid work / that reads as if written in a singular fit of mania / scrawled haphazardly onto the page / triggered by poisonous madeleine cakes / What’s at stake with the sandwich? / language spews forth / seemingly unfiltered / guttural and half-formed //

The text exists / like this review / somewhere between / prose and poetry / ambiguous zone / where the font size is large / maybe 14pt or 16pt / columns thin and long / left-justified / the space between paragraph and stanza / difficult to define / both flow down the page / lines or sentences enjambed / dimensions of the space utilized as a means of hybridizing / the format rendered in a super-position / where you cannot know if it is / stanza or paragraph / until you expand the page / and reveal where the author has clicked the ‘enter’ key //

Atkins’ book / as the title suggests / is infected with mentions / of food and drink / that trigger memories and tangential thoughts / appearing mid-sentence / only to re-vitalize / the narrator / sending him down another line of memories / not unlike Proust’s madeleine cakes / where the narrator inhales the aroma / and an onslaught of memories rise to the surface / Drinking used to be as basic as upending an animal’s open neck into your mouth. //

An endless stream of images / is evoked / tall plates of food packed onto wooden tables / marshlands and rural towns / fat parents hunched over their meal / often a with a grotesque nature to the language / depicting a dilapidated pastoral / We slept gross and happy at night while mum gathered a nocturnal yield of forced rhubarb… / atemporal / anachronistic / the narrative flows between almost medieval settings / and jarring appearances of technology / as if all timelines have collided in the same marsh / the past a mystical place / unbarred by / the confines of the present //

Further mentions of food / further dampness and familial dialogues / The body and its food begin / to muddle together / swaying between remoulades / and John Carpenter’s The Thing / There’s the sense that / everything can be consumed / everything can be minced and garnished / over yoghurt //

You begin to feel as if / the author is drowning you in food / pouring each mentioned dish / down your gullet / until you are unable to move / stuck in your seat / stared at / with an unsettling expression / fork and knife in hand / ready to portion you into different cuts / boil you in salt water / sauté you with onions / dress you in various vinaigrettes / Those days we knew how to eat a witch: with gloves on and in one go. //

Old Food conjures a uniquely uncomfortable environment / uncomfortable on a physical level / reminiscent of Aleskey German’s film Hard to be a God / specifically in regards to the mise-en-scene / where everything is made out of wood / and it is always raining / or always had just finished raining / a universe without dryness / where your socks are always drowned in sweat and wintery slush / your fingers are always pruned / rendering your flesh tediously fragile / so easy to tear / Atkins expertly has crafted a world that is almost medieval in its lack of hygiene / summoning a visceral response in my body / making each page feel / as if it is being / spoken into my ear / by an unkempt stranger / with food particles leaping from his lip / with every syllable //

This is not the first collaboration / between Fitzcarraldo Editions and Ed Atkins / A Primer for Cadavers (2016) / collects many of the artist’s short texts / each oozing / guttural / bodily / flesh / rendered into text / the first piece “A Tumour (In English)” / erases a round space from the center of two columns / the first sentence / Reading this text will conjure a tumour up inside you. / each additional sentence adding to the incantatory atmosphere / as if the distorted flesh of the creator / is rising off the page / crawling from the portal that  / you—the reader-—has summoned//

Old Food by contrast / summons itself / after a set of simple stage directions comes the title / PERFORMER / the rest of the book follows uninterrupted / in one sense the text is seemingly made to / be read aloud / by an actor or the artist themself / the acknowledgments mention / related exhibitions in England and Germany / but in another sense / the text feels as if it is capable of uttering itself / the page as the performer / speaking to the reader / projecting its voice into your skull //

This sensation is  / possibly / the result of the unending flow / the performer speaks forever / with no need to stop / to take a breath / line breaks breaking the running column / into manageable segments / but they never quite feeling complete / as if they are interrupting one another / starting and ending before they are ready / this is a  book that begs / to be read in one sitting / making the reader feel / they are not / allowed to stop / that there is always more to hear / more to read / the performer mouth agape / mid-sentence / when you are ready to stand up / you feel obligated to remain seated / to listen / as saliva pools in your mouth //

Sentences are rife with unique grammar / “a” often replaced by “an” / um’s appear mid-thought / There is no margarine at all on the lid of the tub that rests against one um grey sock… / almost as if the book / is written in a different dialect / one constructed using the English language / but repurposing / an ill-fitting lexicon / until it can be tooled into something / new and useable //

This constant flow / can turn the book / into an ambient kind of literature / where the reader enters a trance / is carried through the text / not quite reading / really just looking at the words / grasping onto different anchors / familiar words / um’s / the unexpected appearance of a name / Hannah or something similar / entering the dreamscape of the text / there is no true chronology / only the streaming rhythm of the sentence-structure //

Memories resurface / half-formed / the text’s ambience marked by a certain / quasi-comprehension / as if the repetition of a name will convince you / that you know someone / the deluge of food marked by its ability to connect the past / long dormant / ambient reading accentuated by a sense of familiarity / familiality / an experience that sometimes / feels like waking up / with part of your last dream still in the forefront of your mind / right before it has disappeared completely / into the unconscious / or the oddness of / having a dream / of arranging plans with a friend / or having a random conversation / only to wake up / and find that no one else remembers it //

If A Primer for Cadavers is / a metamorphosis from text to corpse / Old Food is a metamorphosis from text to wetlands / to clammy chicken breast / raw meat / expired cheese / it is a beautiful landscape of grotesque and soggy dreams / the resurrection of memories / an altar made of food //

Mike Corrao is the author of three books, Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing), Two Novels (Orson’s Publishing) and Gut Text (11:11 Press), one chapbook, Avian Funeral March (Self-Fuck), and many short films. Along with earning multiple Best of the Net nominations, Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as 3:AM, Collagist, Always Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis. Learn more at www.mikecorrao.com.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 28th, 2020.