Live: Ed Atkins - Us Dead Talk Love @ Chisenhale Gallery, London, 28/10/12

“I wanted to ask whether you thought that finding an eyelash under your foreskin was significant?”

So comes the flatly pronounced central query (well, an expression of intent to pose a query) from which Us Dead Talk Love unfolds, spoken by a bald, computer generated male head on one of the installation’s two large screens. As noted in the accompanying literature, the setup “suggests the configuration of an interviewer and interviewee, in relation to one another and a gathered audience” – facing outward in acknowledgement of the audience, and tilted inward slightly in acknowledgement of eachother.

“I wanted to ask…” comes the declaration again and again, which should signify the initiation of a discursive opening; a submission of the conversational floor from one speaker to the other. It never actually does. The remarks of the “interviewer” fold back in themselves, probing into the detail and intrigue of each aspect of each word; the original “question” is postponed and swamped by loose streams of consciousness, reappearing as the poetic prose loops its way (seemingly accidentally) back round again to the original point.

“I wanted to ask if you could recall the sweet, zoo-smell that accompanied the presence of the brush-like eyelashes of megafauna smelled the same – in some non-cognitive echo-located remembrance – as that fictional, a-gravitational space beneath the foreskin. Not space, but…”

It’s a sheer rambling; a 37-minute exploration of what happens when the reins of thought are slackened and the mind is left to simply talk, masking its verbalisations as poetry while ultimately emitting empty lexical vessels that simply sound like poetry. Nonetheless, a few recurrent concepts can be plucked from within the tangle: sickly romanticism, pure sex, human biology, death, all emerging from within the words as impulsive flashes of curious imagery.

Meanwhile, a gorgeous soundtrack is winding itself in amongst the words, in synchronisation with both the speech and the images that flicker, sway and slide across the two large screens – gentle piano notes nudging the head from one screen to the other, choral swells bubbling beneath close-ups of the human eye, orchestral explosions that announce disruptive changes in visual landscape: images of horses, apples, hair. An eyelash flicks onto screen, accompanied by the click of a projector changing slides, free to be analysed for the intricacies of its physical shape and the endless potential symbolic significance within. And there’s the head itself: strangely life like in its constant emotional transition, yet detached and distant in the loose lip synchronisation and cold, computerised texture, with sadness, anger and regret conjured in the flex of virtual muscle within a face of light pixels. At one point, audio and visual culminate in a grandiose performance of a particularly saccharine number from Sweeney Todd, like a nightmare vision flashing momentarily within the collage.

“I wanted to ask what you thought about my desire to become a representation of myself.” It’s one aspect the rambling that, in amongst the words that billow gaseously into the atmosphere, actually cuts through. Us Dead Talk Love sits itself (and myself, in fact) in that limbo between what is said and what is meant – a lost translation, hanging in the air and agonisingly awaiting the audience to grasp an inner meaning that, just maybe, isn’t even there.