Growing up in the Netherlands in the late eighties as the child of a liberal, creative, and slightly mad family meant that on Sunday morning, church was replaced by Rembo en Rembo. Broadcast by a television network producing possibly the best and most inappropriate children’s television ever made, Rembo and his friend Rembo – two ultra camp chavs in their late twenties – looked at society through bright pink, star shaped glasses (to match their seventies glitter suits) and taught me, unwittingly, more about life, and art, than many teachers, schools, or books ever did after.
For their short sketches, which are in terms of humour and absurdity comparable to the English Little Britain, they invented a range of strange, aggressive, and awkward identities, which they used in their persiflage of the Dutch people and their culture at the time. They ranged from, for example, the Gluurbuur, a pervy neighbour who scanned the neighborhood (his block of flats) armed with a pair of binoculars on the lookout for oversized females in bathing suits, to Tampie, a chubby five year old girl with a lazy eye, who interviewed celebrities and always, accidently, covered herself in poo.
Aernout Mik, Training Ground, 2006, two channel video installation, digital video on DVD, rear projection screens embedded into temporary architecture; Production photograph: Florian Braun; Courtesy of the artist and carlier|gebauer, Berlin.
Maxim Hartman (1963) and Theo Wesselo (1963) who played Rembo and Rembo and all their transformations were born around the same time as Aernout Mik (1962), and I couldn’t help seeing Mik’s video works at the Stedelijk Museum in the context of their shared history and upbringing in the same time and place. There is a similar pace, a similar focus on the mundane and even banal, and a similar distance from reality. There is a slight dissimilarity, however, in terms of humor and style.
In Touch, Rise and Fall (2008), Mik follows the “international circulation of human beings and consumer goods”. Filmed at a large international airport we see how security guards dissect luggage and destroy toys in search for illegal substances, but simultaneously how passengers indulge in the luxuries of tax-free shopping only a stone’s throw away. Mik shows the more illogical, irrational parts of our overly organised society just as they happen and unfold.
Aernout Mik, Middlemen, 2001, video still, single channel video installation; Courtesy of the artist and carlier|gebauer, Berlin.
Mik’s video works are staged and slow, their messages, although often covert, are strong. The artist doesn’t shy away from political or socially engaged statements – even though he often leaves them for the viewer to distill. For the video Middlemen (2001), for example, Mik prophetically filmed a staged scenario of events unfolding during a stock market crash. Traders played by (sadly, or perhaps ironically, quite mediocre Dutch actors) sit in shock, physically shaking and visibly disturbed amidst piles of paper. It shows the sense of community that unfolds when a crisis happens (this, in anthropology, is called Communitas) but also explicitly shows Mik’s view on capitalism and the aftereffects of the gold rush.
Mik’s videos address societal and political situations, and show us Dutch, European (and, generally, human) culture at its least pleasant and inspiring. Riots, trials, and tribunals, people praying incentivised by cash, the feasting occupiers of the colonies, war – looking at Mik’s work we see the parts of society we’d rather not look at for too long. And here we’re forced. Mik’s works rub in the unpleasantness of humanity, the catastrophes, the icky bits. His work is dark at times, and it’s not hard to agree with what he is saying. The message is clear and well communicated. I just couldn’t help but think that wearing a pair of bright pink, star shaped glasses would have done him well.
(Image on top: Aernout Mik, Communitas, 2010, Single channel video installation; Courtesy: carlier | gebauer. Production Photograph: Florian Braun.)