Aernaut Mik: Impressions from the multi-channel installation Speaking in Tongues, which was shown at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt from November 2013 to January 2014.

From November 2013 to January 2014, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) showcased video artist Aernout Mik’s multi-part video installation “Speaking in Tongues” under the auspices of the Global Prayers Congress. An essential component of Mik’s work involves comparing the prosperity gospel and the practices of religious communities who espouse it with the beliefs and practices of the secular business world, exploring the extent to which the business world relies on religion for establishing its own rites and practices, and vice versa. Mik’s approach combines aesthetic, fictional, and documentary elements, resulting in the creation of an autonomous artistic performance that both brings to life and reflects on the individual phases of the exploratory work.

“Speaking in Tongues” explores religious prosperity movements from a transnational perspective. A characteristic feature of these movements is the promise of material wealth for the individual, alongside the hope of salvation and redemption. Prosperity gospel churches often appropriate the business models of international corporations and, through a combination of the material and the spiritual, operate as hybrid companies, producing what Mik calls “staged wonders.”

Mik’s production offers documentary footage from numerous Pentecostal prosperity churches in Lagos, Belo Horizonte, and Rio de Janeiro, as well as staged scenes filmed in Berlin and edited excerpts from the self-presentation of religious companies (churches and businesses) in the media. This footage is formatted into a video installation, which is projected on a number of synchronised screens. The work spans three continents, thus highlighting the global dimension of the growing urban “religion industry.” The staged events were produced and filmed as improvised performances in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which serves as a uniting metaphor for the improvised performances that seek to re-enact the Haus der Kulturen’s construction in the power-war period, collapse in 1980, and finally its reconstruction. These performances offer the tourist a metaphorical story of redemption and rebirth. By serving as the central location for the fictional events, the HKW functions for its visitors as both an anchorage and as a hypothetical ritual space for their own experiences and reflections.

The point of departure for Mik’s work was the preceding research work of “Global Prayers,” particularly the reservoir of images and detailed stories accumulated. Extensive research was carried out on the Internet and during numerous filming trips to Lagos, Brazil, and Berlin. Two days of shooting were scheduled for the footage filmed in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt with up to four camera teams working at once. Here, the performers’ theatrical improvisations, developed according to a general script, were of great importance, especially emotionally. Debates on respect for the religious practice of “speaking in tongues” were as much a part of the process as the idea of suddenly working towards a sect-like event.

A landscape of transitions between the religious and the secular is created from a range of source material—a threshold region bringing to light chance and structural similarities, demonstrating how one form passes into the other or generates it. The project highlights the extent to which the corporate self-presentation of globally active companies has entered the communication structure of Pentecostal communities (logos, marketing and organisation, new media, access to material wealth, etc.) and examines how western corporate gatherings have integrated implicit religious rituals (mass celebrations, cultic veneration of the market, collective ecstatic states, psychological training for personnel, etc.) into their corporate culture.

What begins as the re-enactment of a large shareholder meeting with its big video screens, is subsequently transformed into a series of novel, even speculative events. The gathering, initially recognisable as a business event, mutates into an ambivalent form with a multitude of parallel actions whereby secular and religious motifs and collective rituals exist side-by-side or merge into one another. Trance-like states suddenly spread throughout the crowd of business people, moments of passionate celebration of unity or silent prayer erupt into the conventional sequence of a business meeting, while assistants or security staff regulate the process. Admissions of sin or reports of the awakening of faith mutate into emotionally charged presentations of business prospects and profit forecasts. The invisible hand of the market rules, while an iPhone-like product is praised by a messianic marketing guru.

Both worlds—the Prosperity Gospel with its worldly appeal as much as the esoteric-like business practices—provide glimpses of a new type of self-government. The power of self-discipline in the spirit of an orientation to higher things pervades the entrepreneurial and spiritual worlds in equal measure. Individuals become the architects of their own fortune, while state and society are absent: “I consider it highly questionable that methods appealing to employees on a religious and spiritual level are employed to bind them more tightly to the corporate exploitation process. These methods aim to make the most intransigent of people compliant, and thus completely ‘domesticate’ the employees.”

Belief and reason manifest themselves at the same instant. The secular and the holy both presume and generate one another. From the very start they elude a strict demarcation, forming a “blurry area.” Suddenly, people stand up in the audience, joining in an endless “speaking in tongues,” while others offer assistance. In such ambivalent situations one can no longer be certain as to the nature of the event one is witnessing.

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