Aernout Mik

Aernout Mik’s exhibition “Raw Footage/Scapegoats” consisted of two projects. Raw Footage (all works 2006), a two-channel video installation, is the artist’s first work employing found footage. Mik edited material shot during the war in the former Yugoslavia, gathered from the archives of Reuters and Independent Television News (ITN), into a 39-minute double projection. We always see more or less related footage on both screens; in one segment, for instance, dead bodies are dragged and carried in different ways by one or more people, resulting in a perverse typology of corpse displacement. In other parts we see children dressed as soldiers, people reacting to sirens, or soldiers and civilians (if this distinction is valid in a situation in which numerous military and paramilitary groups are active) standing around, not doing much at all. The drama is mostly understated.

The Yugoslav war was, of course, particularly nonlinear and “unclassical,” even if TV stations and newspapers tried to impose some semblance of dramatic structure on events. Mik’s selection and montage emphasizes the war’s scattered and almost carnivalesque nature. Instead of grand arcs of shock and suspense, as both the Pentagon and Al Qaeda try to create these days, Mik chose almost quotidian moments of shock and intermittent and hesitant suspense, as in the footage of people scampering across a city intersection, fearful of the snipers who frequently target it. In Mik’s montage, such scenes become nervous ballets, studies of movement. The artist has created a taut structure that still allows for a variety and scope far exceeding the narrative constraints of TV news formats. Takes are often long, not edited to suit news reports; even integrated into a larger structure, the footage still appears raw.

The exhibition’s other piece, Scapegoats, is more like Mik’s previous work. This single-channel video installation of 74 minutes is a reworking of a scene from Raw Footage, in which soldiers or members of some militia hold people prisoner in a sports arena, but the setting of Scapegoats is a manifestly Western stadium with bright plastic seats, where armed and unarmed denizens perform routines inspired by the “raw footage.” If bringing the war back home—that is, to Mik’s home in Western Europe—makes the piece potentially interesting, it fails dismally as choreography: Mik essentially treats people as moving props, an approach that results in an abstract and unarticulated temporality whose main function seems to be its rhetorical difference from mainstream film and entertainment production. The piece might have worked better as a completely static tableau.

Raw Footage shows the quickening and slowing of people’s movements in different war-related situations, resulting in a rich temporal tapestry. With this piece, Mik restores some sense of the rhythms of daily life—a daily life that has been utterly disrupted—to images destined for news flashes that negate lived experience. By contrast, Scapegoats feels impoverished, an abstract negation of Raw Footage. Dynamic and sometimes erratic movements have been turned into senseless routines; time has become frozen. Whatever critical function such negations could serve is sabotaged by their generic and indiscriminate use; in the end, they seem intended merely to promote Mik’s work as Important Art. The height of rhetoric is the sudden interruption of this otherwise silent piece by the sound of a gun being fired—a gratuitous act of rebellion against the dead time of Scapegoats.

Sven Lütticken