Aernout Mik: ‘A Swarm of Two’

At carlier | gebauer, Berlin, the artist explores where the boundary blurs between violence and security in public spaces

As if in reference to its title, Aernout Mik’s film A Swarm of Two (2017) is sound-tracked by nothing but the buzz of the two projectors. Like many aspects of the work, this hardware hum alludes to some familiar experience that, in the end, constitutes little more than its ghost. The two-channel video, which runs to 30 minutes, was shot on a shopping street in the Belgian coastal city of Ostend. On each screen are a pair of police officers – two men and two women; two of them white and two black – who crawl and tumble across the pavement or edge along the shopfronts in an interchangeably absurd, melodramatic and pedestrian choreography.

After the succession of lockdowns and terrorist attacks in Belgium (and elsewhere) in recent years, heavily armed and uniformed figures have become worryingly commonplace in public areas. Similarly, in Mik’s work, a lack of auditory contextualization renders what should be a state of emergency not exactly ordinary, but so nonsensical that one cannot help but surrender to a very ordinary viewing experience – that of total, passive absorption. Although silence offers its own brand of intensity, it is sound that normally indicates what we are supposed to be feeling – that which is blasted from the orchestral pit, not whispered by the prompter. But what is most unsettling about A Swarm of Two is that I am not sure that I am, in fact, unsettled, nor if I should be.

web_am_2017_a-swarm-of-two_cg2018_6403.jpg

Aernout Mik, A swarm of two, 2017, exhibition view, carlier | gebauer, Berlin, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and carlier | gebauer, Berlin; photograph: Trevor Good

 

At certain points, two channels sometimes show the same scene from a different angle, while at others they seem to belong to parallel realities or a broken chronology. It is an artistic choice that serves to ensure the work’s message remains perpetually out of reach. This is meant in the best way, because if this film could talk, what more could it say than ‘the world is a scary place’? Instead, it opts for senseless non-sequitur: a vaguely erotic wrestling match among a pile of cardboard boxes and the sudden appearance of a golden retriever teeter on the ridiculous and, thanks to the earnest urgency of Mik’s mute arrangement, allow for contemplation without conclusion – indeed, without coherence. While the noise and narrative of such a turbulent scenario might have taught the audience a lesson, the shrill didacticism might also have inspired an exit. Instead, this is a mesmerizing pool of multiplexed ambivalence you can’t seem to pull yourself out of. 

web_am_2017_a-swarm-of-two_still_a_01.jpg

Aernout Mik, A swarm of two, 2017, video still, two-channel video installation. Courtesy: the artist and carlier | gebauer, Berlin

Most of Mik’s videos are conceived as installations in which viewers are set in bodily relation to what they see and to others in the room. At carlier | gebauer, however, we are dropped within a traditional black box. In this environment, the cinematic flow of infantry on the high street, as if lifted out of a Hollywood action plot, is thoroughly at home, which heightens the strangeness of every other aspect of the work. This incongruence acts to undermine the collective understanding that primes the piece: that is, why the police are there in the first place, and what they are protecting us, the public, from.

In one scene, an officer turns guerrilla warrior as he removes his uniform and uses his T-shirt as a hood, before, in an unexplained cut, he reverts back to his native role. In a second, the aggressor is also the lover, as a bite becomes a kiss, just as, in a third clip, a saviour dragging the wounded to safety doubles as tormentor, the dragging done by the hair. Here, violence and security are locked in a dynamic tango that makes the purportedly stable logic of the outside world appear as delusional as it is dangerous.

Aernout Mik, ‘A swarm of two’ runs at carlier | gebauer, Berlin, until 14 April. 

Main image: Aernout Mik, A swarm of two, 2017, video still (detail), two-channel video installation. Courtesy: the artist and carlier | gebauer, Berlin

Kristian Vistrup Madsen is an arts and culture writer based in Berlin, Germany.

Issue 195

First published in Issue 195

May 2018

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018