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Student Showcase Archive

The RCA Visual Cultures Events Series: 'Absurdity: Colouring in the Void'

25 May 2018 | 6.30pm – 8pm

Battersea, Gorvy Lecture Theatre

With Ed Atkins, Katrina Palmer, Sally O'Reilly and Kit Downes, and Sarah Jones (Chair). This event has been organised by the SoAH Research Group, Absurdity, led by Chantal Faust, with Brian Dillon, Tim O'Riley, Joanne Tatham, Edward Thomasson, and Milly Thompson. Absurdity: Colouring in the Void will focus on the importance of absurdity today in the work of Ed Atkins, Sally O'Reilly and Katrina Palmer. 

When Albert Camus penned his philosophy of the absurd in 1942, he wrote that the role of the artist is to 'give the void its colours'. This is quite a beautiful notion, but how do we colour-in nothingness, openness, or a vacuum? Is it a question of finding meaning in the meaningless, or in what lies beyond the possibility of total certainty: a question of not explaining and solving, but experiencing and describing? To recognise absurdity is to call present reality into question. Exemplified by the Dadaists, the embodiment of absurdity continues to be called upon by artists and writers as a response to global anxiety and inanity. Absurdity: Colouring in the Void will consider the importance of absurdity and its relation to humour, repetition, subjectivity, endurance, failure, play, irony and revolt, as well as its power as a subversive tool, a disarming force, and a form of protest.

'Having just written a story about space-time travel, about which I know nothing, I'd like to retrace my steps to establish the rationale behind this untenable work that's the result of asking questions about the multiverse and reincarnation, that could only have irrational answers, ostensibly a series of speculations that emerge into reality in the form of a proposal. In order to proceed there's a need to act as if the proposal is factual, using the persistence of the narrative to insist on something impossible'. – Katrina Palmer. 

Katrina Palmer works with storytelling, situating narrative in found sites and distributing it across media, including audio environments, printed matter and performance. Foregrounding words, she refers to absences, often inviting the audience to imagine objects that are indicated, but not fully present. Recent exhibitions include The Time-Travelling Circus: The Recent Return of Pablo Fanque and the Electrolier (Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, 2018); The Necropolitan Line (Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 2015); and End Matter/The Loss Adjusters (Artangel, 2015). Publications include The Dark Object (Book Works: London, 2010). Palmer received the Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists, 2014. Forthcoming in 2018 is The Coffin Jump (Yorkshire Sculpture Park, co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW).

Writer Sally O’Reilly and musician Kit Downes will perform two pieces for voice and harmonium: Night-Sea Shore (after John Barth) and In the End You Will Always Love Me. The first is a peri-menopausal response to a short story written from the point of view of a sperm. The second re-presents the hyperbolic claims made for art by art critics. Both place meaningfulness in uncomfortable, hilarious proximity to illusion or delusion.

Ed Atkins will read a portion of Old Food. Featuring vampires, horses and supernatural poverty, the book tilts at lack – of meaning, sustenance, eloquence, progress – by emesis. Old Food is a book in progress.

Ed Atkins is an artist who makes videos, writes and draws, developing a complex and deeply figured discourse around definition, wherein the impossibilities for sufficient representations of the physical, specifically corporeal, world — from computer generated imagery to bathetic poetry — are hysterically rehearsed. Solo presentations include Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; MMK Frankfurt; DHC/ART, Montréal (all 2017); Castello di Rivoli, Turin; The Kitchen, New York (both 2016); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015) and The Serpentine Gallery, London (2014). An anthology of his texts, A Primer for Cadavers, was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2016, and an extensive artist’s monograph from Skira came out this past autumn. Atkins lives and works in Berlin.

This event has been organised by the RCA School of Arts & Humanities. If you have any queries, please contact Anne Duffau for more information.


  • Ed Atkins

  • Sally O'Reilly

  • Katrina Palmer

  • Sarah Jones (Chair)