Vincenzo Della Corte: I would like to start by mentioning your ongoing exhibition in Aalborg, at Kunsthal NORD, titled “We Are All Workers”. Why did you choose this title? And how did you conceive of the exhibition in relation to how it would be articulated.
Mikkel Carl: We Are All Workers is written with capital black letters on the facade of Kedelhallen – the gigantic room formerly used to house the power plant kettles. It’s a slogan I snatched from Levi’s latest advertising campaign – the brand who supposedly invented denim as work wear for miners but ended up dressing people who mainly work on laptops. By positioning this repurposed statement in the middle of Nordkraft (the name of the power plant), I aim at the transformation from an industrial town to an information- and education culture that Aalborg is undergoing these years, and which this 30,000 m2 cultural centre is itself a significant expression of. I guess, in general my show investigates the altered notion of ‘work’ that such aspirations bring about – within the art institution and beyond.
VDC: Your gestures and your artistic practice in general are quite complex. Could you describe it by trying to analyze the main aspects of it and, if possible, attempt to come close to a definition for such a practice?
MK: Personally, I experience the world’s material presence as (being defined by) linguistic structures, and as an artist I therefore work with what may be termed an “associative grammar.” My works are mainly generated through a re-organization of everyday objects and further elaboration of visual phenomena deeply embedded within our cultural existence. I see the art object, and in a continuation of this, the entire situation of exhibiting as a kind of diagram. Individually and through various combinations my works seek to evoke the aesthetic, cultural, economic and social signatures that continuously encode the world as an ever-changing configuration of signs.
Furthermore, it is important to me that the artwork engages in a productive exchange with the viewers’ bodily presence as it relates to their individualized patterns of association. Initially seeking this primarily within the compositional structure of the objects themselves I have more recently begun to conceptualize my output in much closer relation to the specific institutional structures conditioning any such display.
VDC: Some of your works seem to have / need a kind of mirror; they seem to exist in relation to correspondent elements, often other works. Additionally, when attention appears to be focused on one work, this would seem to be a part, an appendix of something else. In an attempt to be succinct, it looks like an “ad infinitum” process. What do you think of this interpretation?
MK: I do suffer from sort of a horror vacui being totally unable to create anything from scratch. Recently I’ve done a number of anodized titanium paintings, and with those I could only work in series. I have no way of telling whether a painting is finished except by looking at the others paintings that also might or might not be finished. And concerning We Are All Workers, which is my most comprehensive show so far, a friend of mine (the artist Anna Sagström, part of the team behind Minibar in Stockholm) put it like this: “So substantial. I like how the thought travel from material translations to direct statements.” This made me feel proud; apparently I managed to have both difference and repetition (as Deleuze would put it). But I didn’t start out with an all-over thematic framework concerning the post-industrial notion of work using the hole/the crack as a metaphor. I rather went from the level of individual works, new as well as older ones, “mirroring” them – as you adequately call it – in each other and in the institutional structure of Kunsthal NORD.
MK: Deconstruction is probably one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the art world and beyond – along with postmodernism. And now they have gone out of fashion, much like readymade, avant-garde and appropriation. But having spent years studying poststructuralist theory at university, this is where I’m coming from.
VDC: You don’t want to appear in your work. You don’t like the “signature”. Let’s say, through your work you aim to disappear. What do you think of this thought?
MK: You go ask the director of Kunsthal NORD whether he think I disappeared. My guess is he doesn’t. But I know what you mean. My work is not about me, but solely about how to produce new meaning on account of whatever everything already means. That being said, this is still a fairly strong subject position. The author never quite died, as Barthes would have it. And obviously Francis Fukuyama was dead wrong about history coming to an end. I relay, therefore I am.
VDC: I have a question that I often ask artists I have conversations with – primarily because it’s of great interest to my research. And the question has to do with your relationship to the Internet. Does it somehow influence your work?
MK: I’m very much pre-Internet. I got my first computer as I started studying philosophy at the age of 20. Symptomatic of my difficulties mentally encompassing the era of post-Internet (much like post-modernity this term fell all to quickly from grace) has been my preoccupation with Artie Vierkant’s digital renderings of installation shots, which for me is almost something sacred, and with what seems to be Parker Ito’s eternal flow. And with Brad Troemel whose works always have that extra layer that I would never (choose/dare?) ad to mine. At some point I tried submitting stuff to The Jogging but even though I was sort of doing it right – digitally patching objects together that normally belong to very different area within the ontological register – I realized that for me such images might be a first materialisation of an idea (the computer is NOT something immaterial) but essentially they are still only sketches. I need for things to happen IRL.
VDC: Space is an essential part of your work, it is not only a container, it is an entity that organically interacts with your work, that somehow even conceives it – and not only the “inside” space. Often your actions take place outside. Could you tell me more about this?
MK: To name it something I call my approach to exhibition making ‘site sentive’, inspired of course by but also quite different from the politicized concept of site specificity. I’m much more emotional or intuitive about the whole thing. Relating to what we just talked about I’ve have a large bank of ideas sketched out in simple writing (“Bend a tree on site until the top sits perpendicular to the rest of the trunk”) and/or as digital collages, and this is where I start from approaching the space, letting it alter these ideas, simplify them, combine them, or generate new ones. I doesn’t really matter whether this is indoor or outdoors. Ever since I visited the major American land art works, followed by a trip to see the Zen gardens in Kyoto, Japan I have been preoccupied with art objects’ ability to “develop” the environment of which they are part. This is equally true of natural forces and human nature.
MK: I don’t particularly like when irony is used as a social defence mechanism allowing for people to attack others while covering their own flank. For me life (and art) is about “exposure”. I guess in that sense I subscribe to the project of Enlightenment. On the other hand, as this project turned out to be essentially dialectical as Adorno and Horkheimer has described it in their eponymous work, well, then the play of irony is absolutely necessary in order to survive. Art can be either/or and neither/non even at the same time, deliberately (mis)using our common language and this makes it highly suited for criticizing stuff. Not so much in a direct and so-called political manner, but more fundamentally. Plus, in the case of an ever more institutionalized/capitalized art scene it’s a way for the artist to have the cake and eat it too.
MK: TRUST, which is the Copenhagen biennale of sorts curated by Sonia Dermience, and during the summer holiday Hard Candy. It’s paintings show – shaped canvases preconceived as collectors’ items (they will probably therefore sell poorly) installed not just in a homely setting, but @ home; a riff on the whole studio visit thing that seems to grown ever more popular in a time of post studio practices. No, seriously, I live in a beautiful old house in the country side, so I thought it would be fun to conceive of an new body of work for this place, perhaps also getting a few (very) late punches in regarding the discussion of “zombie abstraction”, flipping and the impact of social media. I shall very much enjoy making the most of my wife’s flower arrangements, the antiquities, and our two fireplaces. I guess in that regard I’m highly influenced by how the Internet has fundamentally altered the ontology of the art exhibition making documentation a more or less obvious interpretation of the works involved.
Oh, and then I have a solo show at Formic, which is a small exhibition space in Copenhagen mainly for ants.
VDC: In this moment I am thinking of aspects that are the foundations of modern and contemporary art: things like found objects, the readymade, a laptop on the floor, and the viewer’s gaze. What is the artist’s role in all of this?
MK: For me ready-made, objét trouvé, appropriation or whatever historical term we use for the (almost) same approach is exactly that: A strategy, or perhaps even a media – like painting, which Duchamp btw famously deemed a ready-made too. It’s nothing new, but a lot of potential resides (how many times painting has been declared death, null and void). It’s all about “the assistance” given by the artist. So, to get back to one of your earlier question: The signature is probably never more present than when the immediate recognizable gesture is not.
Mikkel Carl (b. 1976) lives and works in Soroe / Copenhagen, Denmark.
Courtesy Mikkel Carl