‘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 (