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 (