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Training Ground – Aernout Mik @ Project

Everything feels right at first glance in Training Ground. The scene is set in recognisable terms and the usual actors seem present – the authorative police force, the beat-down “non-nationals”/”illegal immigrants” and the casual truck driver bystanders. If it is positioned as a police replication of a situation for training purposes, then it is also one whose real world reality we are well used to viewing.
The scenario unfolds in a disused carpark. Two cameras circle round the scene, their viewpoints presented on large screens side-by-side in the gallery space. Both screens cannot be taken in completely and compete for both attention and priority – a reflexive nod to the struggles that will later take place within their own created timespace. 

Slowly we notice that the scenes are not being acted out as expected. Some of the police wear uniforms, some do not. The police sometimes seem to wear the same clothes as the detainees. As the training exercise begins, boundaries begin to start to blur. Police start frisking police. Something is definitely wrong.

Other participants appear. Why they need to be here is not clear. The truck drivers stand around the training ground and look on the police and detainees from a distance. Their trucks form a wall and perimeter behind them. Unlikely figures and strange happenings soon become apparent – the truckdrivers’ children cartwheel across the car park while some of the drivers share a friendly mealtime with some of the police and other of the detainees. Well dressed student types act out their parts; incongrouos in their roles as illegal immigrants. A bearded archetype of the radicalised intellectual mingles with the truck drivers. Equiped with a camera he uses low-key conversation, appearing and disappearing, engaging with the different groups.

As the police exercise continues, the strict marking of the boundaries that divide the different groups becomes less and less clear. A strange sickness starts to spread like a virus around the parking lot with no regard for established social order. It’s metaphors are clear. Some twitch under its influence, losing track of their once clear roles. Others are more clearly damaged and lose all sense of function – police assume the role of detainees, detainees mingle with the truck drivers and once-clear hierarchies begin to look more seriously threatened.

After a close up shot of superbarrio type figurines on the dashboard of one of the trucks, the bearded intellectual leads the truckers into a more explict power struggle. The detainees are now armed with zapatista like wooden guns. After seizing power, the detainees duplicate the earlier actions of the police force on them – the police are ordered to lie on the ground with their bags on their backs. Some police later resume the role as dominant power, others remain disempowered. Some detainees will resume their role as detainees, some will escape the perimeter. Other participants remain suspended in limbo world having broken their relationship with social grouping or surroundings. No role is constant. A continous flux of engagement and power struggle continues to take place with structures and groupings of power dissolving and reappearing……

The strength of Training Ground lies in its ability to subvert the expected. This ability to subvert doesn’t just come from where you’d expect – from the confused actors and actions of the narrative described above. It also comes from the clear absence of the artist’s politicised voice (in a scenario where all the characters of a typical political commentary are conciously used) . The legitimacy of a particular group’s engagement with other groups or their struggle for power is never put forward by the artist. When you look closely, there is no social comment, just a mapping/performance of the social – making it all the more disturbing.

Posted By: caroline (

‘Training Ground’, Project Arts Centre

Aernout Mik’s video installation Training Ground now showing at The Project Arts Centre, Dublin is a performative take on the naturalisation processing of individuals. The action takes place on two screens, each screen filming the same action at different angles. This technique allows the viewer to assimilate into the image as silent observer, we are however aware that we exert no power on the action unfolding. Using the Bazinian long take Mik directs the viewers attention inwards to a central performance involving two different groups, one military, the other multiracial. One supposes an authority and power position, the other takes on a defensive and resigned role, as we shall see the artist later plays on these associations. The space occupied by the players becomes an “anyspacewhatever”, a universal non-place of endless possibilities and one that promotes questioning.
What one notices immediately in this piece is the camera motion; each screen moves in and out of focus and wavers up and down in an alternating manner, the screens never in tandem. One feels the camera motion and the angle to which the viewer is placed on the ground results in a motion sickness effect. The artist straight-off places the viewer in the situation of the immigrant. The action begins with the group of multiracial people being frisked by the military personnel, having their passports checked they are then forced to prostrate themselves upon the ground by the deliberate bending of their knees by a guard. This prostration results in a Christ-like image of the body, however I think this is too simplistic a reading of the figuration in this piece. The artist quotes the flattening of the body, the purposeful grounding of the body so that it fits into a space easier. As we witness this process of bodily contact with the earth, one thinks of a bodily relationship to the land. Mik then focuses our attention on a transformation occurring, each member of the multiracial group begins to froth at the mouth and bend over as if in the throws of a seizure. This imagery connotes the Bataillian idea of the informe – by restating the mouth as prow and lowering the human into an animalistic stance through the natural hinge of the knee one creates a formless structure brought low – like “spittle”, significant boundaries are then shattered and categories undone. Each persons face now being in direct contact with the soil results in an animalistic ritual of application of dirt to the face, a symbolic masking of the features and racial qualities, a nullification of the racial category into a unifying “race” associated with the soil. One is forced to question to whom does land ever really belong?
Throughout the video we see the constant mapping out of zones, enacted through a Nazi-style march and shouldered rifle creating an unseen yet intimidatory boundary making this anyspacewhatever a mind space that can actually exist anywhere. Like Caolloiu’s mimetic insect and Ozenfant’s moulding of form we witness here the succumbing of the individual to the mould that offers the least resistance, the desperate mimicry of the subjects to each other in a longing to infiltrate the new terrain. The exhaustive lust to attain equal footing and an association to the soil. This video ultimately deals with the isolation in society of the unknown and the unquantified. People are chosen using a categorical basis, those that are needed, those that will assimilate easily and be unnoticed and those that are not needed and would not fit the mould, the old, the weak, and the mad. The artist here suggests the uncanny ability of these sections of society to mirror our own fallabity making us incapable of accepting them. This symbolism quotes the Freudian model; our natural narcissistic inclination to populate the world with our own doubles becomes our insurance against death. The “other” in the form of madness or illness represents the ultimate infection one that must be quarantined to save the self. Of course we can see here a play on the word asylum, be it political or not, the word itself suggests madness, a contagion that will spread, provide asylum at your peril! I find the artist’s use of the seizure in this piece very interesting as not only does it suggest a contagion it also suggests the excoriation of a pollutant. The very seizure we witness seems to me to invoke regurgitation. Is this an attempt to remove the very essence of the person and replace it with a new informe? As the setting ultimately suggests border control we can extrapolate the performance to symbolically mean the quarantining of an infection. The infection that leads to the pollution of race. The latex gloves worn by the guards affirm this scenario.

A reversal of role occurs midway through the video and the guards are placed in the situation where they are under threat, they as before are now searched and prostrated. However as one has viewed the action in this linear format we now not only see a power reversal but a creation of a new scenario which connotes abuse and rape, a restructuring of social hierarchy that can be viewed as a theft, creating a bereavement within the locale. The official regalia of the guards now debased we associate this scenario with the undoing of societal authority and we become conflicted. This group in turn becomes contaminated and begins to seize – the contagion has had its way. A line-up of action figurines appears briefly at the front of the screen and creates a hiatus within the action. Here one is reminded of the qualities of all action heroes. The ultimate human power figure, infallible, white, perfect, yet ultimately un-real and unachievable.

Posted By: Hilary Murray (

Short Reviews: Post for general feedback and responses

Following the discussion on Friday, we’ll begin using this space to post reviews from the Project and Four gallery exhibitions visited recently. The idea was to gather a series of short responses to these exhibitions and to subsequently reflect on how each of us might approach critical writing on contemporary art. There was no particular parameters set and the pieces aren’t being ‘assessed: rather, let’s discuss the various ideas and approaches that are in evidence here. Writing very short pieces like this can be really challenging (how do I say anything useful in this limited number of words?) but this can be a valuable test and it’s not uncommon to encounter short pieces like this: whether as extended listings, or as short newspaper or magazine reviews or as press release statements, or as catalogue entries, or even for yourself as the first note that forms the basis of a longer piece in a larger writing project.
Posted By: Declan Long

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