Aernout Mik - Shifting Shifting

this work is loaded with a fractal complexity, one meaning shifting into another and then shifting again

Feature by John Millar | 10 Jul 2007
This vital and necessary show at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh consists of four video based installations marked by a firm sculptural intelligence. The work of Aernout Mik is loaded with a fractal complexity, one meaning shifting into another and then shifting again.

The pieces here deal with themes of war, power, negligence and the nature of the simulacrum in video culture, but the central concern appears to be the banality of brutality. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Raw Footage, one of the most recent works on display. Here Mik has taken footage from the war in the former Yugoslavia which was deemed to be lacking in dramatic action and therefore of no use to the news agencies. Using two screens he shows people going about their daily lives with the crackle of gunfire a constant soundtrack. Pretty girls cycle by smiling, men drink bottles of brown beer and play cards in a city that is collapsing, soldiers shoot at nothing and then turn to the camera and smile like pleased children with toy guns. The whole thing is surreal primarily because it feels that it could all be happening outside the gallery right now. Mik brings war back to reality by in a sense 'normalising' it and thus making it paradoxically unfamiliar. He wrestles it away from the usual news reels that are glossed with the smart sheen of drama; this is a million miles away from the long distance pans of the 'shock and awe' bombings shown during the early days of the Iraq war where death on a massive scale was turned into spectacle. Mik forces the viewer to consider and challenge the methods of visual representation and the deeply political nature of the edit.

One of the central complexities of the show is the line between the 'acted' and the 'real'. Raw Footage is the only piece which uses genuine images but if the viewer were not made aware of this there would be little way of knowing. The other three pieces all deal with malignant situations where power or force or brutality are being exercised. In all the pieces familiarity is there but without specifics. In Scapegoats civilians of non-specific ethnicity are herded by soldiers into a sports stadium, the setting is ambiguous but references that come to mind include: the murder of dissidents in Chile under Pinochet, Croker Park in Dublin, New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and the gassing of Chechen rebels and their hostages by Russian Special Forces in 2002. Once again, though, Mik takes the viewer inside the story, showing us what is happening inside the stadium, not statistics. What is happening is terrifying in the least dramatic sense and therefore all the more disturbing. The artist takes war and revolution away from the glory or even the gory horror of conventional representation and shows that, really, nothing has changed since the schoolyard.

Vacuum Room consists of six screens which form a hexagonal space throughout which chairs and cushions are spread. On the screens are shown various shots of a political assembly – again multiply suggestive: the G8, the UN or a cabinet meeting - at which a protest is taking place. The shots are taken from CCTV cameras positioned throughout the conference room. The positioning of the chairs and cushions forces the viewer to take a 'view' as it is impossible to see all the screens at once. The use of CCTV forces one once again to consider how video culture functions politically, how it has changed our perception of reality, its use in the hands of power. This is a powerful, complex and convincing show.
Fruitmarket, Edinburgh until 11 July. Free.