Aernout Mik at MOMA

Aernout Mik: Two Films about Disaster and Exploitation at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)



2001, continuous loop, Holland
Director: Aernout Mik
Installation Film

The “middlemen” in this film are stock exchange functionaries, acting out the lead up to and collapse of an unnamed stock exchange in an unnamed country. Mik’s tableau is an “accident” in Paul Virilio’s terms or “that which happens” (see “Unknown Quantity” in The Cinema of Globalization). Virilio, Parisian urbanist and futurist of disasters, writes that “the accident is what remains unexpected, truly surprising, the unknown quantity in a totally discovered planetary habitat.”
Mik’s film was originally part of Virilio’s signature exhibition, The Museum of Accidents, mounted in Paris and New York City in 2002-2003, but exhibited afterwards throughout the world. Taken together the films in the exhibit point to technology and global communications as accidents waiting to happen, not only a financial crisis as in Middlemen but also nuclear disasters like Chernobyl or terrorist events like 9/11. (See in Expanded Guide.)

Further Reading:
Wilson, Nichael. “Aernout Mik: The Dutch Artist Finds Anxiety in the Everyday.” Time Out, May, 2009 ( Reviewer of the MOMA retrospective concludes that “Middlemen” turns “viewers into unwitting performers and, as Mik’s works do with regularity, [provoke] reflection on the madness of crowds.”


“Osmosis and Excess”

2005, continuous loop. Holland
Director: Aernout Mik
Installation Film

Like most of Aernout Mik’s installation films, narration, characterization, and to a certain extent plot have been jettisoned in this rendition of two locations in Tijuana, Mexico, in favor of visual spectacle. Like “Middlemen” (q.v.), however, a political and/or cultural critique is usually implied rather than dramatized.

Mik’s camera pans a remarkable valley of thousands of abandoned cars, offering the terrible beauty of the castoffs of industrial society combined with a natural setting—an edge city of automobiles without drivers. To offset all this heavy metal, small herds of cows and goats wander across our field of vision, munching on the grasslands surrounding the cars. On another slope we also see a large band of schoolchildren playing with a piñata.

Mik alternates this mixture of found and contrived tableaus with shots of what looks like a mega discount drug store. White coated salesmen stand about, somewhat dwarfed by the huge displays of drugs and packaged goods for sale. However, subsequent shots reveal that gradually the entire floor is covered in several inches of mud, lapping at the shelves and displays.

The premise of the two locations—and the origins of the title—is simply this: used American cars are shipped to Mexico to be stripped of still functioning parts, while Americans cross into Tijuana to buy prescription drugs (amoxicillin and zantac are featured, among many others) that are either cheaper here or unavailable back home, or the drugs are smuggled to the USA.

Website: “portrays the border region in an extreme panorama format as a microcosm comprising a landscape defined by circulating commodities.”

Further Reading: Noah Marcel Sudarsky, “Whitehot Magazine,” May 2009, Critic recalls “Repressive Tolerance,” Herbert Marcuse’s essay “lambasting liberal society’s seemingly infinite tolerance for the unacceptable” as he visits MOMA: “Refashioning the repressive environments which have become pervasive in so-called ‘advanced’ Western societies (such as administrative detention centers, absurdist tribunals, inhuman bureaucracies, and even schools), Mik does a better job of plundering the myth of liberty, equality, and fraternity than any contemporary critical essay” (Noah Chomsky and Naomi Klein, ouch).


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