A Readymade Ceremony
Fans of Félicia Atkinson’s haunting and delirium-induced psychedelic drone may be aware that the French artist has also released a number of more ‘abstract’, musique concrète-related works under the alias Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, as well as being active as a visual artist and publisher (the latter as a co-founder of Shelter Press). The more observant among them may have noticed a certain closeness between Atkinson’s adventures as Le Petit Chevalier and her visual practice, not shared by music released under her own name — or, at least, that the work appearing under pseudonym somehow seemed a better fit for the world of MFAs and artist-run gallery spaces. I write “seemed”, in the past tense, as the blurb for Atkinson’s new release “A Readymade Ceremony”, released as Félicia Atkinson, heralds “the reunion of her two main projects — under her own name and Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier” and the affirmation of “the obvious link between her visual and sonic body of work”.
An immediately obvious symptom of this shift is that the drone is no longer the central structuring device of the music, as it was on releases such as “Visions/Voices” and “O-RE-GON”. Instead, a number of discrete elements are presented in an apparently arbitrary fashion. These elements include spoken fragments from Atkinson’s recent book “Improvising Sculpture As Delayed Fictions” and from Surrealist writers René Char and Georges Bataille, copious amounts of grungy, clay-like noise, a very bright keyboard piano, and other less recognisable pitched sounds; techniques used in their presentation include repetition, looping, juxtaposition, jump cuts, and so on. The influence of early tape music and musique concrète is clearly discernible, yet there is also a clear formal correspondence with Atkinson’s gallery installations, which normally consist of “a series of objects displayed on the floor” — a common mode of display that she knowingly and humourously describes as “made for good pictures for edgy art websites”.
This idea of art as “a series of objects” spills over into other activities: the afore-mentioned book “Improvising Sculpture” also consists of a number of fragments arranged higgledy-piggledy both across the page and throughout the whole text, the speaking voice roaming nomadically between various persons and objects. This strand of thought, running across the breadth of Atkinson’s practice, could perhaps be named ‘sculpture’; it concerns the ‘object-likeness’ of its elements, be they musical, textual, visual, or otherwise. And yet, this doesn’t seem sufficient to describe “A Readymade Ceremony” — indeed, shards of dronish, hallucinogenic dream still float among the debris, supplementing it and also transforming it. For the sake of rhetoric, I will name this transformative excess ‘poetry’. I’d hesitate to call the two concepts of ‘sculpture’ and ‘poetry’ opposing forces. Rather, it seems to me that what is presented (what stands, to use Rie Nakajima’s beautiful turn of phrase; sculpture) also at the same time differs from itself (is re-presented; poetry). “…abstraction connected to emotion connected to a wooden box with no key,” intones the artist.
Let’s make no bones about it: the poetry in “A Readymade Ceremony” is harder to discern than in previous Félicia Atkinson albums, which may disappoint some fans. But I would urge them to stick with it, and also to investigate Atkinson’s work in other media; the excellent “Investigating Sculpture” would be a good place to start. The reward for such an effort is the impression of an ambitious, intelligent, and nuanced artistic practice, the products of which are not without beauty, but can also be surprising, funny, thought-provoking, and occasionally bitingly (and hilariously) satirical. “A Readymade Ceremony” is perhaps the most coherent statement to emerge from this practice thus far; one could go as far as to say that it sets the benchmark for things to come.