Dutch entry 2007
Citizens and Subjects
Dutch entry of the 52nd Venice Biennale
curator: Maria Hlavajova
Citizens and Subjects was the Dutch contribution to the 52nd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. The project consisted of three parts: a new work by artist Aernout Mik in the Dutch Pavilion in Venice, a critical reader and an ‘extension’ of the Pavilion taking place in the Netherlands in autumn 2007.
Citizens and Subjects reflects on the notion of the nation-state in the present day circumstances of the so-called West and asks how we can negotiate its prospects vis-à-vis the challenges posed by the enduring state of anxiety stemming from various threats, real or imagined. This contemporary condition is co-defined by immigration, an issue of major political and moral consequence, which we seem to have been incapable of resolving. Instead, fear, ‘security’ and violence have increasingly become tools for maintaining the status quo. The project proposes this situation as the paradigm of our contemporaneity and prompts us to think through art about other possible ways that a new kind of political reality could be constructed.
Citizens and Subjects: Aernout Mik
In Citizens and Subjects, Aernout Mik presents a new, complex multichannel video installation consisting of three new works embedded in an architectural intervention in the Dutch Pavilion. Training Ground (2007), Convergencies (2007) and Mock Up (2007) extend into one another to create a multifaceted installation.
In the two-channel installation, Training Ground, a fictional training is shown, in which policemen learn and rehearse tactics for handling the arrest of refugees and various techniques of law enforcement. Through repetition, mimicry, inertia, re-enactment (including references to other filmic work, namely Jean Rouch’s 1954 Les Maitres fous) and building of irrational excess, the scenes of the fictitious training gradually transgress into a series of cathartic moments questioning settled hierarchies of power and ways of handling issues such as (illegal) immigration in the so-called West.
Convergencies is a two-channel work, in which Mik puts together existing documentary footage gathered from international news agencies. Starting from the idea of training, he looks at what kind of ‘threats’ we feel need to be actively addressed in order to respond to the pervasive sentiments of anxiety within society. Here footage related to immigration is entwined with media images from trainings and real situations aimed at dealing with a potential attack or crisis that would compromise local or national security, the nature of which is at times difficult to detect. Although the situations involved are filled with chaos, confusion and unpredictability on one hand, on the other the police, teams of first responders, refugees and victims seem to populate these scenes with a baffling sense of routine, as if suggesting that this state of alert is our new ‘normal’.
The four-channel video installation Mock Up is a fictional work filmed in an uninhabited Dutch ‘village’ Marnehuizen, which is one of the largest military exercise sites in Europe. In a ‘detention centre’ built for this occasion inside the compound, a training for evacuation of the building in the case of a fire is staged. Besides detainees and guards, the fire brigade, police and various medical teams are present. The cast on the film set involves a large number of young people who are part of the drill. Through the interaction between the adults and the young people – Mik’s narratives evolve through action before the camera, without the use of scripts or rehearsals – the actors begin questioning the unspoken rules and conventions of the situation. They infuse the course of things with aberrant behavior and absurd actions, over-saturating the work with irrational play and empowering invention, as if this was a space through which new confidence in other possibilities could materialize.
With the project Citizens and Subjects Aernout Mik questions the simplified distinction between citizens (as those with the rights and full privileges of belonging to a state or nation) and subjects (as those under rule or authority) today. On one hand he asks, aren’t we all actually subjected in the same way to this rather disquieting reality? Concurrently, he clarifies the notion of the ‘subject’ as one who is capable of acting in order to overcome the distinction between subjection and possible liberation, metaphorically suggesting that perhaps it is from here that new opportunities might emerge.
Citizens and Subjects: The Netherlands, for example
Instead of a traditional catalogue to accompany the exhibition in the Dutch Pavilion, a critical reader is published, in which ideas and questions around ‘citizens and subjects’, as Mik introduces them in his project, are debated and analysed by a number of scholars and artists based in the Netherlands.
Citizens and Subjects: The Netherlands, for example takes the state of the Netherlands as an ‘example’ of the contemporary western condition. It has become clear that the ideological vacuum created by the collapse of the bipolar world in 1989 was not filled by new emancipatory political imaginary. Instead, the demands of ‘national security’, the normalization of violence and the maintenance of high levels of fear and anxiety have become part of daily life in the nation-states of the so-called West. This critical reader seeks to identify the causes of our current predicament and how our society fails to negotiate the challenges posed by economic globalization, human migration and cross-cultural influence. It asks how art and artists can react to these changes and what possibilities they can create to see things differently. The book contains contributions by artists, philosophers and social scientists based in the Netherlands who analyse critically the mechanisms at play. The texts ground the abstract principles of citizens and subjects in the concrete social axes of ethnicity, nationalism, gender and religion, exploring the potential for new emancipatory thinking and questioning whether art could be a space to reimagine current forms of subjection.
Contributors: BAVO (Gideon Boie & Matthias Pauwels), Sarah Bracke, Esther Captain & Guno Jones, Marlene Dumas, Halleh Ghorashi, Suchan Kinoshita, Sven Lütticken, Aernout Mik, Melvin Moti, Soheila Najand, Henk Oosterling, Pages (Nasrin Tabatabai & Babak Afrassiabi), Baukje Prins, Willem de Rooij, Iris van der Tuin and Lawrence Weiner.
Edited by Rosi Braidotti, Charles Esche and Maria Hlavajova
Number of pages: 336
Published by: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst and JRP|Ringier
Designed by: Kummer and Herrman
Price: € 25
Citizens and Subjects: Practices and Debates
The ‘extension’ of the Dutch Pavilion to the Netherlands in autumn 2007 is envisioned as a platform for debating and discussing issues related to the project Citizens and Subjects through art and other disciplines by means of discussion groups, research residencies, teaching modules, lectures and conversations.
The ‘extension’ takes place in Utrecht through a collaboration between BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht University and Treaty of Utrecht, as well as at Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in conjunction with the project Be[com]ing Dutch and at Witte de With in Rotterdam in connection with the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The respective projects have grown out of a similar analysis of current cultural and artistic as well as social and political conditions, and the possible role of cultural institutions in their development. Bringing together the projects within this framework takes advantage of this synergy with the aim to contribute to the general public debate about a variety of key issues, including changing national identities and the anxieties brought about by such changes.