FROM PARANOID MACHINE TO MAGIC MACHINE June 2006
Is it possible that by living in a body with limited sensory perception in the very normative, standardized world, we are traumatized? Can the fact that you are, for example, a heterosexual, white, male, European, of a solid economic status, living your life "by-the-book," be claustrophobic? Is there martyrdom through boredom?
Judging from the works of Marnix de Nijs, there is and it can. The world according to this artist is so centralized and overregulated that any person complying to norms experiences life as a kind of Truman show, Matrix or Zoo in which every individual becomes an exhibit. Dangers one can get exposed to are minimal and even the sense of adventure is strictly controlled. If you're in the system, you are always protected. You pass so many check-ups, institutions, and mechanisms of control that you actually become a part of the social machine to the point where you even begin to exert the same control on others.
What are the borders of the Real which insulate our life experience, and where does the wall precisely exist in Truman's world? de Nijs' work begins as an expedition for answers to these questions and to reveal the thresholds which contain our experience. His work anarchistically attempts to crack the system's shell. His projects question borders, whether they be architectural, physical, corporeal or symbolic. He demolishes or constructs a space by placing it in relation to the spectator's body. This space is construed piece by piece, while relations between the pieces are not always predefined. Each installation by de Nijs creates a kind of spatial trap for the body and mind, inside which both are forced to cope.
At 2006's Touch Me Festival in Zagreb his work (which remains in the form of sketch since there was a danger of provoking a sort of international incident) was literally a demolition. A house, the symbol of protection and insulation from the outside world, was to be obliterated using survival food for ammunition – beans. The work was to be located in the Balkan region where unlicensed construction is a hot issue. With his primary school biological experiment executed in king size dimensions, de Nijs sought to magically transform the process of demolition into a liberating cathartic action – a tectonic disturbance of the simulacrum.
Provoking incidents and unveiling conventions and the regulations which govern the world characterize his other works as well. Spatial Sounds (created through a fruitful collaboration with Edwin van der Heide) is a project concordant with the time when surveillance society, as defined by Foucault, becomes a society of control mediated by technology itself. The age in which the prison establishment – embodiment of the system of discipline and surveillance or Panopticon – is slowly replaced by a machine, which will allow access only if you have the right password, fingerprint, voiceprint or genetic code. The space occupied by the installation is limited, while the mental space inside the spectator's mind emerges as the space of danger and horror – a place where spectators come to realize that maybe the art isn't safe after all. Unlike Spatial Sounds where the concept of space is clearly defined by a fence, his interactive work RMR probes another kind of terrain – the space of cinema and the silverscreen – where the individual becomes the sole actor in a film which is both watched and experienced in realtime. However, this installation too comprises a certain dose of unease. Only after a half an hour of running on the machine at a precisely defined speed, dripping in sweat, can one envisage the artwork.
The common thread present in most all works by Marnix de Nijs is the fact that a man, an observer, a participant is brought into challenging situation – the atmosphere of a demolition in Pump it, the fear of explosion of the last gallon of oil in Autonomous Oil Reserve, the vibration and a sense of instability created by The Thrillmachine, the unexpected resistance of a machine controled by other human in Push and Pull, the loss of privacy from wiretapping in The Sound of Neighbours and nausea in Panoramic Accelerator.
The situation becomes even more dangerous in Spatial Sounds which can cause fear and unpleasantness to rise, provoking the possibility of serious injury or even death for the too brave or curios visitor. In his RMR installation, the machine itself and seduction of the film causes many visitors to lose control of the speeding treadmill, eventually finding themselves thrown off the track like a car off the road.
The question rises: why do we love these dangerous machines? Demolitions, noise and speed bring excitement and satisfaction in a similar yet much more tactile manner than the way Hollywood films deliver the rush of adrenaline. Ultimate pure jouissance stems from a real explosion, which questions the system's security.
Also throughout his work, humour plays an extremely important role. Whether he is using bullet-proof fabrics to make a tent, fashioning an explosive device from the last gallon of oil on Earth, making a person run in order to watch a film, even in his ludic reference to a fable on magic beans, we discover contrasting, humorous and imaginative ideas which do not exist in the real world. The way in which humor in the works of Marnix de Nijs function brings to mind Deleuze's description of how a person (artist/scientist) becomes cognizant of an idea. Two points in the brain which cannot in any manner be presumed or associated, finally converge side by side as a result of numerous transformations.
If the whole of human experience is simply a map of our sensory inputs projected subjectively in purely spatial terms, then what are the boundaries of that space? What exists outside the limits of human perception, society and the realm of scientific inquiry? Marnix de Nijs searches for these boundaries, probing the Truman world's shell in order to knock on it (or knock it down) thereby proving its existence, since if there's no world, we do not exist in reality. When he bangs against that wall, a spectral body of his art emerges, creating a spatial pocket, a world on its own that makes the former world a little bit less boring.
Olga Majcen, curator of Kontejner | Bureau of
Contemporary Art Practice