Completed in 2001, Reversal Room is Aernout Mik’s most complex video installation to date. Five rear-projection video images are installed within a pentagonal construction juxtaposing two scenes—one takes place in a restaurant and the other in a kitchen. Each scene was recorded simultaneously on five cameras using untrained actors and constructed sets. Thus Reversal Room completely surrounds viewers with slowly rotating, synchronized tableaux, giving viewers the impression that they are themselves situated in the middle of the events.
The video is approximately one hour and eight minutes long. Starting out in the restaurant, the projections switch six times between the Chinese eatery and the seemingly unrelated kitchen to end up in the restaurant, where perplexing fights—re-enacted again and again in a kind of slapstick routine—between various diners and restaurant staff penetrate the otherwise tranquil scene. In sync with the video sequences, the lights in the gallery switch as well. Yellow bulbs come on over the corridors during the restaurant sessions. A central blue light is paired with the scenes in the kitchen, in which the lethargy of casually dressed guests strangely parallels the industriousness of uniformed cooks and kitchen help.
Trained by the codes and conventions of film and television, we take the moving images of this installation to be primary. Mik, however, has designed a very specific architectural/sculptural housing for his rear-projected images. Everything in Reversal Room has been fabricated to guide our attention. We are led through a narrow, angled passageway into a central enclosure, from which two dead-end corridors of different depths branch off. The entrance and exit from the viewing space are through the same corridor. Commenting on how images and architecture are interdependent in his installations, Mik said in a recent interview that “I try to integrate the experience of the actual space and the ‘fictional’ experience of the video projection in such a way that you cannot tell exactly where the one stops and the other begins.” In Reversal Room he accomplishes this relationship by linking the construction of the camera shot to that of the installation architecture. While the kitchen sequence was shot exclusively in a 360-degree pan, in the restaurant the camera slowly zooms in and out of one area of the dining room. Consequently, the architecture itself seems to change from a circular to a star pattern, emphasized by the synched screens and lights.
Coalescing the fictitious space of the film with the real, physical space of the gallery, Reversal Room—unlike traditional cinema—makes viewers more aware of their bodies in relationship to their environment and to other viewers. “I don’t mean to dismiss self-awareness altogether,” Mik noted recently, “just the part of it that promotes the idea of an individual as an independent creation who can be looked at as separate from his environment and other people and objects in space. You are always someone else than you think you are. You’re always saying something different than you think you are saying. What your whole body has to say is so much more complex.” Mik doesn’t address his viewers only on a perceptual level—he wants to affect their whole bodies instead.
Mik combines action on film, camerawork, and spatial construction into an interlocking apparatus in which the conventional structure of reality no longer applies. In this way, he seems to reverse our idea that sight grants us our primary access to the world and instead proposes an experience through our whole body.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art