Silence (Aernout Mik)

Vega Tescari

In 2014 talking about his work during an interview with Marc-Christoph Wagner, Dutch artist Aernout Mik (1962) stressed his belief in an image that is “sharper, much sharper” with no sound. Thanks to this fact, one can be at the same time “inside the image” while keeping “an outside position”. A condition that, according to the artist, can realize “a parallel process of consciousness”.
Digging in the images, lingering on them, becoming aware of what one sees, is part of the spectatorial experience conveyed by Mik’s work. Viewers cannot indulge in a passive fruition or in the comfort of unequivocal messages. Audience’s common expectations are in fact challenged and the usual narrative praxis – made of a beginning, a development and eventually a final resolution of an event–is abolished in favor of more layered and ambiguous horizons of sense, which ‘resist’ and subvert an immediate and univocal interpretation and appropriation. Within this framework silence plays an essential role, as shown for instance in his 2003 “Pulverous”.
In this soundless–as many works by Mik–and speechless video, the viewer witnesses an action of destruction and demolition taking place inside what seems a supermarket warehouse. Men and women, young and old, with no visible distinctions of class, most likely belonging to the middle, are engaged in an accurate and scrupulous activity of ‘pulverization’. Their targets are market goods produced by the society they too belong to and of which they are the everyday consumers (fig. 1-2). Though vandalistic or looting acts reported in chronicles could come to mind, here we are faced with something totally different. Their destruction has more a ritualistic pace than an aggressive one; they seem to act as in a trance, each on their own, without communicating one with the other; as if possessed and driven by an unknown force that turns them into passive agents more than active ones. The absence of sound contributes to the transfer of their actions outside of any specific time and temporal flux, giving to them and to their activity a more symbolic and wide status, as if in an a-temporal horizon where something was, still goes on and which will last indeterminately.
Is it consumerism–and a revolt to it–the silent voice directing these people’s acts? Are they actively reacting to something or are they simply experiencing another form of submission and defeat? What position are viewers called to take in relation to this state of things? Mik’s video remains on an enigmatic threshold where the absence of a clear interpretative path is preferred to an overt illustration and description. Where sounds and words could define and orient–but also Limit–the reading of the oeuvre, silence claims a more participated raising of consciousness and an act of vision willing to fill in the gaps, cope with the lack of reassuring elements and face images that defy and resist an effortless apprehension. Because of and thanks to silence one is obliged to pay a different and deeper attention to the image, watching it “much more in its complexity than with the sound”, as Mik underlines. This process is enhanced through the frequent adoption of life-size projections on big screens (fig. 3), which renders the visual exploration both a mental and a perceptive experience. The importance given by Mik–trained as a sculptor–to spatial issues and to their relationship with the individual, is clearly stressed in an interview with Marta Gili: “The viewer is physically enveloped by the architecture of the work and becomes naturally part of it. He is addressed in a very physical way. Added to this, he gets ‘hypnotised’ by the constant and slow stream of actions in the projections, of the camera or actors, which never seem to end. He will indeed also feel resistance, but precisely this will also attract him”.
Silence as the absence and withdrawal of words, as the expression of what cannot be told and resists delimitation or rationalization, but also as the realm of potentially infinite narrations, as–in Susan Sontag’s words–“everything that could be said”.
Viewers of Mik’s works are free to verbalize silence, to give a form to it, but most of all are called to participate with body and mind, not only as passive consumers of images but also as constructors of their meaning.
By abolishing sounds Mik perpetrates an act of subversion and resistance which could be a possible and acute counterpoint of the panorama drawn by Jean Baudrillard: “The futility of everything that comes to us from the media is the inescapable consequence of the absolute inability of that particular stage to remain silent”.

fig. 1: Aernout Mik, Pulverous, 2003 (still). Three-channel video installation on video server: 23:27 minutes (looped), colour, silent on rear projection screen embedded into temporary wall: http://21cblog.com/tag/aernout-mik/
fig. 2: Aernout Mik, Pulverous, 2003 (still): http://www.artupdate.nl/mik-groots/
fig. 3: Aernout Mik, Pulverous, 2003. Video installation: overhead projection of digital video in 3 Data DVD (colour, silent). Dimensions: Projection: 180 x 700 cm Variable Dimensions: https://coleccion.caixaforum.com/en/obra/-/obra/ACF0870/Pulverous;jsessionid=5451E3504CC9A39F16B6B6A1949CA0E6

Literature:

  •  Aernout Mik: Primal Gestures, Minor Roles, Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum and NAi Publishers, Rotterdam 2000.
  •  Aernout Mik: Reversal Room, The Power Plant, Toronto 2002.
  •  Marta Gili: Interview with Aernout Mik, in: Aernout Mik, Fundación la Caixa, Barcelona 2003, p. 90.
  • Aernout Mik: Dispersion Room, Reversal Room, Walther König, Köln 2004.
  •  Aernout Mik: Communitas, Steidl, Göttingen 2011.
  • Jean Baudrillard: Cool Memories [1987], transl. by Chris Turner, Verso, London; New York 1990, p. 139.
  • Régis Michel: Mik ou la révolution glacée. In id.: L’œil-écran ou la nouvelle image. 100 vidéos pour repenser le monde, Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain, Luxembourg 2007, pp. 142-148.

Web:

About the author:
Vega Tescari is a SNSF postdoc fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence and a lecturer at the Academy of architecture in Mendrisio (USI-Università della Svizzera italiana). Her research interests focus on the links between the visual arts, literature and philosophy. Contact: vega.tescari[at]usi.ch

Reference / Quellennachweis:
Vega Tescari: Silence (Aernout Mik), in: Aesthetics of Resistance, Pictorial Glossary, The Nomos of Images, ISSN: 2366-9926, 13 January 2016, URL: http://nomoi.hypotheses.org/447.


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