Shifting Shifting - Camden Art Centre

Dutch artist Aernout Mik presented four absorbing and unsettling video installations.

Made over the eighteen months leading up to the exhibition, these works struck a discomforting chord with many shared anxieties of the time. The exercise and shifting distribution of power, patterns of human behaviour and the ordinariness of extraordinary events were played out within Mik’s insightfully edited and staged enactments.

Aernout Mik (b. 1962, Netherlands) is intrigued by the social dynamics of groups of people and their physical behaviours in different, often bizarre, contexts. We experience extraordinary situations as if they were routinely prosaic; as Michael Taussig suggests in his essay for the catalogue made to accompany the show, a little like travelling in an aeroplane and being encouraged to think of anything except the fact we are at 30,000ft above the ground.

A simulation of a police training arena provided the context for Training Ground (2006), a situation that slipped between uncertain acting and brutal reality. The ‘actors’ were uniformly ‘dressed down’ so that the relationship between the side officially with power and those they are ‘controlling’ was uncertain.

Raw Footage (2006) was a dual screen projection of unused documentary footage from the war in former Yugoslavia. This material, now decades old, was not broadcast at the time due to its lack of dramatic content. The first time Mik has used ‘found’ material such as this, Raw Footage showed the banality of war which the news media typically edits out.

In contrast, Scapegoats (2006) is a staged fictional event recalling the aftermath of events such as the New Orleans floods, and the behaviour of people invested with powers they would not in ordinary circumstances have. Groups of people hung around, argued, slept or did nothing, with no clear beginning and no sense of where it would end. What became clear as the film progresses is that roles are interchangeable.

Finally Vacuum Room (2005) was presented on intimate, enveloping panoramic screens, with synchronized projections of six different views of the same event. It took on ideas of covering and uncovering, masking and unmasking, as scenes from a political assembly moved from order to chaos when disrupted by a group of young protestors.

Training Ground, Raw Footage, Scapegoats and Vacuum Room had, at heart, themes based on the distribution, transformation and disintegration of power.

Aernout Mik’s film installations were embedded in sculpture and were sometimes environments audiences could walk through. As always with Mik’s work, there was no classic cinematic narrative or sound to reveal anything of the human psyche other than the assumptions we make through observing the action played out before us.

An illustrated catalogue designed by Irma Bloom featuring a new essay by anthropologist Michael Taussig (Columbia University, New York) was published to accompany the exhibition.

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