Old Food
From one of the most lauded artists of his generation comes a purging soliloquy: a profound nowt delivered in some spent afterwards. Scorched by senility and nostalgia, and wracked by all kinds of hunger, Ed Atkins’ Old Food lurches from allegory to listicle, from lyric to menu, fetching up a plummeting, idiomatic and crabbed tableau from the cannibalised remains of each form in turn. Written in conjunction with Atkins’ exhibition of the same name, Old Food is a hard Brexit, wadded with historicity, melancholy and a bravura kind of stupidity.Ed Atkins is an artist who makes all kinds of convolutions of self-portraiture. He writes uncomfortably intimate, debunked prophesies; paints travesties; and makes realistic computer generated videos that often feature figures that resemble the artist in the throes of unaccountable psychical crises. Atkins’ artificial realism, whether written or animated, pastiches romanticism to get rendered down to a sentimental blubber – all the better to model those bleak feelings often so inexpressible in real life.

Old Food Details

TitleOld Food
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 28th, 2019
PublisherFitzcarraldo Editions
Rating
GenreArt

Old Food Review

  • Neil
    January 1, 1970
    Reading "Old Food" is a very confusing and disorienting experience. It is very short but it took me far longer to read than I imagined it would because the only way I could get a kind of sense out of it was to read it out loud. Once I started to do that, images and impressions started to form in my mind’s eye: nothing concrete, nothing definite, but a sense of something (although I am still not completely sure what!).I think for anyone planning to read this book, it is very good advice to spend Reading "Old Food" is a very confusing and disorienting experience. It is very short but it took me far longer to read than I imagined it would because the only way I could get a kind of sense out of it was to read it out loud. Once I started to do that, images and impressions started to form in my mind’s eye: nothing concrete, nothing definite, but a sense of something (although I am still not completely sure what!).I think for anyone planning to read this book, it is very good advice to spend some time beforehand looking at material on the Internet about Atkins' "Old Food" show (the temptation to crack a joke about a new Atkins diet is getting too strong, so I’ll get it over and done with now). Seeing some examples of the work in that show and listening to some of the interviews Atkins has given about the show is very helpful. I didn’t do it until after reading the book, but it made me feel a lot more comfortable about the fact that I didn’t really understand the book but I somehow enjoyed the experience of reading it. Although, enjoy isn’t really the right word as it is dark and melancholic.Atkins says in one interview I listened to that there are one or two events in his show but it is mostly ambient. This "mostly ambient" is a good description of the narrative in the book. There is no obvious storyline or plot. At one point in an interview, Atkins says of his show, "There is something missing but we are not entirely sure what. It is almost as if this show is taking place after something."Hearing that last quote made me want to go back and re-read the book because it summed up what I had felt but until that point had not been able to express. It sounds obvious now, of course, but until I heard Atkins say it, it eluded me.Here’s another quote from a video interview that I have attempted to transcribe. It's not word for word, but I think I’ve got the gist of it:"If you go onto this show sort of thinking (about it) through theatre or something that is one experience, or cinema, or sculpture, or painting - all of these things lend you a lens to look at the work. And for me the preeminent lens is literature, so more often than not I'm thinking about things through a kind of literary mode - so figuration and literality and also a kind of grammar: I think I tend to push towards a grammatical understanding … or poetic, more lyrical, in fact."And this is a largely poetic book. Lots of the sentences don’t make sense when taken on their own. In fact, that could also be said about paragraphs. But, like poetry often does, the overall narrative creates an impression. At times it feels like we are reading some kind of post-apocalyptic narrative, but at other times it feels more like someone’s nightmare that is very much grounded in our modern world.Atkins has been described as "one of the most distinctive representatives of a generation of artists explicitly responding to digital media’s ever-increasing ubiquity."I’m not sure it is a good idea to read this book in isolation from the exhibition that inspired it. Most of us won’t be able to ever see that exhibition, but thanks to the Internet and the digital media to which Atkins is responding, we can learn about it and view samples of it. I think any reader of this book should do that.This book will not be to everyone’s taste. You have to be the kind of person who doesn’t require a book to make sense, who is happy with an overall impression rather than with detail, who is willing to let the author take you on a journey to an unknown destination with an awareness that that destination might not be a place you can describe to another person even after you have been there.If that sounds like fun, this is the book for you.
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  • Tommi
    January 1, 1970
    [3.5] Ed Atkins’ latest collection of words, flouting categories just as A Primer for Cadavers did, deals with things dietary and digestive. Written in blurts while the Old Food exhibition was running in various European locales, it consists of a highly associative text that eludes meaning in the normal sense. It is relentlessly assonant and alliterative as though the sounds of the words lead Atkins forward: the narrator reminisces the more or less edible food he has eaten (especially when [3.5] Ed Atkins’ latest collection of words, flouting categories just as A Primer for Cadavers did, deals with things dietary and digestive. Written in blurts while the Old Food exhibition was running in various European locales, it consists of a highly associative text that eludes meaning in the normal sense. It is relentlessly assonant and alliterative as though the sounds of the words lead Atkins forward: the narrator reminisces the more or less edible food he has eaten (especially when together with someone called Hannah), listing ingredients…Broad beans and peas and sweet marjoram, sage, lavender, costmary, mint, clary, sorrel, savory, parsley, fennel, basil, borage, orach, hyssop, some houseleeks. Spinach, cabbages, cole, lettuce, gourds, beets, vines, raspberries, gooseberries, violets, gillyflowers, peonies um dragonwort, lilies, and roses.In conjunction with this phonetic reliance, a defining feature of the text is its colloquial feel, evident in the occasional “um” as seen in the passage above. The narrator recounts past events, always in the past tense, ostensibly not sure what he’s saying, often misplacing the article “an” before a noun beginning with a consonant (“an possession”). Furthermore, there are impulsive line breaks, perhaps suggesting a pause or hesitation in the narration; yet what remains certain is that all of this is just my own conjecture. Meaning-making is largely dependent on whatever these words connote to the reader. The book eschews narrative and favors impressions.If, however, the reader cares about authorial intent, I recommend watching a short video where Atkins discusses the exhibition, and perhaps taking a peek at the actual CGI-animated artwork. Interested in representation, and food being one of the least digital things he can think of, he is clearly preoccupied with the ways artists can represent something as physical as food, and how they always to some extent fail at mimesis. Thanks to its shorter length, Old Food is easier to approach than the much denser earlier collection of similar pseudo-prose, and at its best it is an effective catalyst for kaleidoscopic imagery, and certainly a goldmine of vocabulary.
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  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    Ed Atkins is a contemporary artist who works with video and text.His Old Food exhibition in 2017-8 consisted, in his words, of "eight and then nine videos; anywhere between eight hundred and a few thousand costumes sourced from opera houses and theatres; and a series of enigmatic wall texts written by Contemporary Art Writing Daily and laser-etched onto locally-sourced garbage wood". Reviews and overviews of the exhibition include:https://artviewer.org/ed-atkins-at-ca... Ed Atkins is a contemporary artist who works with video and text.His Old Food exhibition in 2017-8 consisted, in his words, of "eight and then nine videos; anywhere between eight hundred and a few thousand costumes sourced from opera houses and theatres; and a series of enigmatic wall texts written by Contemporary Art Writing Daily and laser-etched onto locally-sourced garbage wood". Reviews and overviews of the exhibition include:https://artviewer.org/ed-atkins-at-ca...https://frieze.com/article/though-it-...https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/ed-... This text, was written during and afterwards as a verbal response to the visual art and published by perhaps the UK's foremost publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions.I struggled to gain a foothold with Atkins previous written work, A Primer for Cadavers, in part as it spanned multiple sources. Here the shorter and more focused format helped. Old Food opens:Spring finds medium son just on the floor. Looks maybe six? evil, holds the red plastic-handled table knife in a small right fist, fishes a slice from the open bag of bad bread with a left.Crumb-stuck margarine blouses with the draw of the knife’s few dull serrations. Excess margarine skimmed against the rim of the tub. Margarine also stuck in a different manner to the underside of the blue foil peel, also. There is no margarine at all on the lid of the tub that rests against one um grey sock, looking perfect, plastic, the lid. Margarine also dark marls grey sock. Grey sock’s cuff ’s elastic unambiguously resigned, wilting round the blub edge of a pair of nice slippers. Untucked beige polyester short-sleeve also with margarine fat seep tabbing, also. Lax brown cords’ shot waistband frayed low. Slight merry muffin-top mini debouch? An ease of flesh into the room.Lighting is palpably dawning. Motes and amber digits depend on young blue air. All the visible skin would shone with marge fat and the floor is a ghastly rink with it in the corner a whole family, their horse and worse.What’s at stake with the sandwich?, to a crush of neighbours jostling for gratis crackling. Allegories used to be clear and dogmatic as baby’s beer. Foaming teats sopped in The People’s bra.and carries on in that vein for 100 pages. At its best it was reminiscent of David Hayden's prose, Eley Williams's Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef and the lyrics of At The Drive In (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgAkZ...). My favourite passage - although set in Summer, rather reminiscent of a office Christmas lunch:An informal lunch of pot-roast pheasant, swum over with loaded, swarthy prunes and a plausible Armagnac; dry mash, weak cabbage.  Sirs got racy in the dining room. Urns of mulled wine kept wassailers blasted and tuneless till red bowls of bread pudding calmed with a thin Dairylea weep, surrendered sultanas and frangible moments of crystallised sugar roofing.  We’d load long white clay pipes with thatched of a dark shag threaded with Mike’s lenient hash dispensed from a panel of vinyl’s cardboard, cheap jigsawed heraldry, and a smoking hemp cord, wearing flat, white, charmless masks of I think hide.  Ducked out through an open sash on the south side and sprinting across the dewed lawn.  We’d exit civility and re-enter the feral and humid and tidal-smoothed, crudded with red earth, blue woad, lucked toad backs and whole proffer adder peel, shrilling in a blackened pan of raw butter, sod fire puked acrid plumes attacked the bridge between the nasal bit and throat.2.5 stars
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  • Emily M
    January 1, 1970
    A book apparently intended to accompany, or at least complement, an exhibition of the same name. I spent an afternoon reading a few articles about the exhibition, which sounded fairly interesting but which (shocking I know in modern art) did not seem to have anything to do with food. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except that the book is – almost exclusively – about food.The nearly-impenetrable blurb on the back cover hints that it may also be “a hard Brexit, wadded with historicity, melancholy and A book apparently intended to accompany, or at least complement, an exhibition of the same name. I spent an afternoon reading a few articles about the exhibition, which sounded fairly interesting but which (shocking I know in modern art) did not seem to have anything to do with food. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except that the book is – almost exclusively – about food.The nearly-impenetrable blurb on the back cover hints that it may also be “a hard Brexit, wadded with historicity, melancholy and a bravura kind of stupidity.” As well as “a profound nowt, delivered in some spent afterwards.” After that, the text is surprisingly readable, a kind of dazed stream of consciousness canter through descriptions of frequently revolting food and related bodily functions. There is no plot to speak of, very little character to speak of, little evolution to speak of. I grumbled to myself about nepotism (the acknowledgements make me suspect there were perhaps a few literary influencer types who caused this to get published by Fitzcarraldo). Yet I can’t say this is an entirely bad book. It’s hard to know what it’s about, but it does, in its raging and teeth-gnashing, seem to be about something. And Atkins writes well. I have translated many, many artists’ statements, and believe that artists who write well are a rare breed. The prose is visceral and surprising.Ultimately I have to admit it wasn’t for me. I don’t mind difficult literature but I have less patience with difficult art (a personal failing I suppose). I would have liked it more, I suspect, if an editor had taken it firmly in hand. And I admit to skipping pages towards the end, unwilling to subject myself to some of the gruesome, if well written, descriptions.I have to say that I was charmed by Atkins himself in videos where he talks about his work, and I feel churlish not rating this higher. It's more of a 2.5 for me but I appreciate his talent while remaining convinced that this is a very niche-market book, and I am not that niche.
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  • Luca
    January 1, 1970
    Old Food reads as the culinary history of a civilisation. It’s of course absurdist and cumulative, but an easier work to deal with than A Primer for Cadavers for sure. The protagonist rambles on and on about what they did “that summer” or at “11pm, the night before winter solstice” or “In June 2009”, with equal parts remembering and forgetting. Many tropes of narrative are employed (like the recurring character Hannah, which makes little sense but is an easy landmark to hold tight to while Old Food reads as the culinary history of a civilisation. It’s of course absurdist and cumulative, but an easier work to deal with than A Primer for Cadavers for sure. The protagonist rambles on and on about what they did “that summer” or at “11pm, the night before winter solstice” or “In June 2009”, with equal parts remembering and forgetting. Many tropes of narrative are employed (like the recurring character Hannah, which makes little sense but is an easy landmark to hold tight to while getting more and more lost in bogs of expired and liquefied ingredients), but the end result is more like a stream of consciousness mixing different times with no continuity and a faint direction. It is actually a lot of fun. And quite elegiac somehow, with a sense of post-apocalyptic nostalgia pervading everything.Every page of this small book has at least a description of food or meals, ranging from deeply questionable to nauseating; plenty of recipe ideas tho – I’ll for sure try the sandwiches with “blue margarine, time boiled ox tongue and white sauce and sweet romaine and the top bit margarined too.” Or not.Check out his brilliant video work if you can. There’s sandwiches there, too.
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  • Heather
    January 1, 1970
    This won’t be to the taste of most people (please pardon that phrasing, if you’ve read the book) but I loved it; a meandering, characterless immediate expression of the visceral nature of food, of flesh as meat, of self-consumption and satisfaction. The blurb is ludicrously pretentious and perhaps so is the book itself but it gets away with it, being something of a cross between Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and a very truncated version of Finnegan’s Wake. If you are here for the weird, you This won’t be to the taste of most people (please pardon that phrasing, if you’ve read the book) but I loved it; a meandering, characterless immediate expression of the visceral nature of food, of flesh as meat, of self-consumption and satisfaction. The blurb is ludicrously pretentious and perhaps so is the book itself but it gets away with it, being something of a cross between Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and a very truncated version of Finnegan’s Wake. If you are here for the weird, you might love it.
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  • Adrian Alvarez
    January 1, 1970
    A quote from Georges Bataille on the first page sets a tone and expectation for this work that frames Atkins' perspective and establishes his attitude. I'm willing to take an artistic vision on its own terms but here what I thought was a run up to Bataille's charge at establishment values was maybe just excusing the absence of narrative as "the accursed share." Perhaps this is what Atkins was alluding to in his interview at Berliner Festspiel when he said, describing Old Food, "...and I suppose, A quote from Georges Bataille on the first page sets a tone and expectation for this work that frames Atkins' perspective and establishes his attitude. I'm willing to take an artistic vision on its own terms but here what I thought was a run up to Bataille's charge at establishment values was maybe just excusing the absence of narrative as "the accursed share." Perhaps this is what Atkins was alluding to in his interview at Berliner Festspiel when he said, describing Old Food, "...and I suppose, as ever, with so much of my work, it's kind of about what's not there - is never there - in these digital videos: is real people and real bodies."So much for literature, the preeminent lens...While Atkins suggests he is interested in figurations of lyrical grammar what resulted in Old Food were more like the words of insubstantial nutritional value described at the back end of the poem - near meaningless utterances without a congruent trajectory. It sounds pretty aloud but Bruno Schulz this is not. There is no warmth. No life. No generosity. No hope. There are no people.So while this piece might be intellectually provocative it didn't strike me as very profound. Sure, riffing on the abstract outlines of sentence structure and Lacanian signifiers using a title as an origin and organizing motif is sort of cool... but why though? The Aristocrats joke does a similar thing with its title and content and I have to say it is more effectively meaningful than this. Our preeminent lens, in case he hasn't noticed, tends to ask AND answer questions. So as far as depositing a work of art into a context that might act as a unifying springboard I think Old Food needed more rigor.In his own words:"Like so much of it, it has that kind of - that thrill of a kind of unpacking something into a metaphoric, you know, meaning." No, Ed, I don't know, but it's good to hear you enjoyed yourself. Here's my hot take: scrap this printing and reissue the piece as a full color oversized cookbook. Hannah's Recipes. Charge $5,000 per copy.
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  • Jonathan Perks
    January 1, 1970
    A poem? A prose poem? Arranged text? Certainly, this book’s focus is food and its consequences: bodily functions, relationships, food - in lists, a recipe, an exhibition piece linked to Ed Atkins’ art. I devoured it in one gulp but I feel I will reorder this menu item - seconds - and read it again.
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  • Andrea Barlien
    January 1, 1970
    This is not an easy read but it is an interesting one. It switches between prose and verse and the beautiful and the grotesque. It’s an anomaly. I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it but I sure as heck appreciated it.
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