Aernout Mik (b. 1962) is a Dutch artist who combines video, architecture, live performance, photography and sculpture. His work investigates the notion of self-awareness and self-will, the idea that an individual stands separate from his environment, from the social and physical space that surrounds us. Mik prefers to rely on the body, which in all its complexities, has so much more to say than we like to believe or accept. His videos and installations investigate the relationship that the individual has with his social and physical environment, a situational dynamic of regulated behaviour within uncontrollable processes, a dynamic that at once evokes both plausibility and theatricality.

Aernout Mik presents situations with no distinguishable beginning or end, neither fluctuation nor reaction, no protagonist, antagonist, cause or result. His figures seem absorbed in their own world, insensitive to their immediate surroundings, with no discernable intentions or codes of behaviour. As in Pulverous (2003), in which a group of people, devoid of expression, slowly and meticulously break apart a large warehouse, right down to the ground, or the stoical dealers in Middlemen (2001), who seem to dissolve into the silenced chaos of a day at the stock exchange. The images, barely edited and distant, contain reality, or so it would seem, but the activity is choreographed, the context constructed.

Mik suggests that behaviour is as directed by external contexts as it is by internal motivation, and studies this dynamic by creating an empty space between intent and action, between will and idiosyncrasy. Socially determined patterns of expectations about human behaviour are dislocated through a denial of all motivation or conclusion. Our perceptions are driven by these expectations. What happens when they are not complied with? Such are the questions that confront us as viewers: How do we recognize meaning in behaviour? What are the rules for evaluating social behaviour? How is our own behaviour determined? By focusing on the tensions between individuals and collective identity or behaviour, the viewer is challenged to evaluate his own actions and perceptions. The unstable systems that Mik creates bring into question all the theories on which our lives and our behaviour are contingent.

This sensation of confusion and estrangement is reinforced by Mik’s creation of different layers of reality, in which staged behaviour is combined with sculptural forms and imbedded in an architectural structure that insists that the observer relate to the work. Through the use of life-size projections to show these different mobile and multiple perspectives, the differentiation between the experience of the surrounding space and the fictional experience of the video projections is obscured. It is a game of converging realities that allows observation to be absorbed into a participation that is both cognitive and physical, as well as emotional.

This is certainly true for his new installation work, Vacuum Room , showing a group of people being bounced back and forth between intense political chaos and steely imperturbability. At one moment, the participants are engaged in violent physical and verbal battle, and the next, they are like cripples, pacing restlessly back and forth, in and out of the space. A group of young people disrupts the already fragile order and takes over the centre of the room, apparently producing different factions. In successive waves of intensity, the space completely disassembles itself, brings itself back to order, or is silenced into an unmoving vacuum in between the various groups. The scenes are simultaneously recorded by six security cameras dispersed around the space, regularly changing position and bringing into view the immobile aspects of the space and its objects, as well as the intense actions taking place within the space. The images are synchronized and projected in silence onto six screens hung in a multi-angled space, drawing the viewer into a world of different, yet coexisting intensities.

Vacuum Room was commissioned by argos and the Centre pour l’image contemporain, Geneva.

Aernout Mik, Vacuum Room  
  • Sat 23.4.2005 - Sat 25.6.2005
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