The online presence of Barbadian artist Ewan Atkinson’s latest body of work, ‘The Neighbourhood Report’, has been growing steadily, furthering the cryptic narrative of the group of characters he created.
Assistant to director at Fresh Milk and ARC Magazine Katherine Kennedy interviews the artist to shed some light on the background of the project, and about what to expect – or not expect – from the intimate and seemingly incriminating glimpses the audience is granted with every new update. Read more below:
‘The Neighbourhood Report: A compendium of Neighbourhood esoterica presented in ordered disorder by various denizens.’ This is the verbose introduction the visitor is met with on the virtual home of Barbadian visual artist Ewan Atkinson’s latest body of work. The Neighbourhood Project has been a long-term investigation of Atkinson’s into the lives and surroundings of an assortment of fictional characters he has created, stemming enough from the artist’s life and influences to be relatable, while being shrouded in enough mystery to weave a fantastic tale of intrigue. Each online update to the series feels like it renders the viewer privy to the secrets of the Neighbourhood, almost putting the audience in a position of power when we learn about or catch the characters in incriminating moments of seeming indiscretion – but we cannot take that at face value, much like many of the updates fed through social media each day.
I ask Ewan if he can shed some light on the fascinating series – but not too much, of course. Just like the reader must decipher the introduction, the ‘ordered disorder’ is also left to the viewer to translate. The more you follow the scenes offered in the report, the more invested you become in its community; and the more acclimatized you become, the further you are thrown when appearances are not what they seem.
Katherine Kennedy: Can you give us some background to the Neighbourhood Project, which has been an ongoing series of yours for a number of years?
Ewan Atkinson: The Neighbourhood started with a rather cartographic exploration of a fictional, ever-changing geographical space. It transformed quickly because my interest in narrative made a series of characters a mandatory addition. I explored these characters in drawings and photographs. It was, and still is, a performative task. I ‘play’ each character with costume or image manipulation, my features are the building blocks for each character. I was interested in certain factors that influence the development of an individual persona: nationality, education, circumstance, concepts of self and of community. The deeds of this motley crew are culled from my own experiences, family anecdotes and a diverse range of cultural influences. This started as a way to reconcile whatever I had experienced with whatever I had read, watched or been told. It was about connection, about belonging somewhere, I wanted to see if anyone else was on the same page (or station). While these themes and influences are still present, lately I have become obsessed with additional elements: the production of meaning itself (why we impart significance and why we long to share it) and narrative as a device for deception or escapism, intentionally or otherwise.
a brief treatment or account of a subject, especially an extensive subject.
KK: Please tell us how the previous manifestations of the project evolved into your current growing body of work, ‘The Neighbourhood Report’.
EA: There was a lot of time in-between one group of work and the next. If I wanted an audience to be able to understand the scope of the project, that what I had produced up to that point and whatever might come in the future was part of an intersecting web of narratives, I had to find a way to bind them. The Neighbourhood Report aims to do that. It supports the physical work. Yes, it’s a sketchbook of sorts, but as far as narrative is concerned it’s prologue, newsflash, interlude, flashback, and appendix all at once. The report was also conceived as a personal exercise. I hadn’t been making anything on a regular basis. I had been tossing ideas around in my head for too long, thinking too much. I needed to release some pressure and force myself to let it out.
KK: ‘The Neighbourhood Report’ is housed online, and utilizes sites like Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. Do you see social media as an important part of this work? Would you consider the pieces leaving the virtual space and functioning in, for example, a gallery setting?
EA: Online dissemination was an obvious choice. I wanted to utilize the way in which images function on social media, they can appear and disappear with relative ease, but there is also an archival element, and of course with virtual networks the broadcast radius is indeterminable. These observations are nothing new, it was just my turn to play with it. I love the idea that they are only digital, that the images don’t physically exist even though they appear as though they might. Their construction relies on illusion, an illusion that toys with the desire to covet an object, no one can hold them or own them. When people ask if they can buy one, I tell them they already have it. Yet, I have not ruled out physical manifestations. My love of books makes a collection of beautifully bound volumes more than appealing, but for now, it’s up in the air.
things understood by or meant for a select few; recondite matters or items.
KK: A theme which seems to be present in many of these pieces is one of transgression, and how these transgressions are perceived by both the viewers and the characters themselves within the series. How significant is capturing these moments of indiscretion to the work?
EA: When a state of belonging is in question, transgression is always a crucial modifier. But what I’m really digging at are the factors that build impressions and suggest purpose, this lies somewhere between the personal and the communal. I try to present moments or pieces of information that are seemingly “pregnant”, informed by dubious context and ripe for picking (apart). There’s shame and shamelessness all over this place. Has a transgression indeed occurred? What signifiers construct this impression? Where does meaning lie (or lie)? It is not clear whether there is significance or not; in fact, it is the very possibility of inherent significance that I attempt to obscure. In a broad sense, it’s a shameless exercise in absurdism. I allude to complex webs of meaning, and the references are diverse, but I’m also a big fan of red herrings. Who you gonna trust?
Read the original review on ARC Magazine.