laupäev, juuni 08, 2013

Interview with Mikkel Carl

On May 21st, Tallinn Tuesdays returned for a third edition of gallery nights. Organized by Estonian Contemporary Art Development Center, six Tallinn galleries participated with extended viewing hours and special events (check out more information from HERE). Liina Rajaveer did lengthy interview with Copenhagen-based Mikkel Carl, whose special installation “Brand New Paintings Caught in the Headlights of Parking Cars” were on view in front of the Vaal Gallery. Interview was originally made for Vaal Gallery home page and can be found from HERE; Artishok is happy to share it with our readers and add some more pictures of installation itself and of the event!

As an introduction, could you shortly tell the story of yourself and art? How did you find your way from philosophy to artistic practice? 
As a teenager I was obsessed with brands, even though most of my friends actually weren’t. In the eighties, coming from a Danish middleclass background you couldn’t really afford brand clothes, so it was a big thing to me when my uncle returning from a position in Thailand brought back embroidered Lacoste-crocodiles in bulk. I had my mother sew one on to my home knit sweater. I also remember being quite amazed when my math teacher told us that Japan exported pencils labelled “P.arker” instead of “Parker”. In my room the walls were covered not by rock star posters or autographed pictures of football players but with homemade Nike Air Jordan advertisements. Later, I went on to making my own “Levi’s” T-shirts using the textile pencils I got for my birthday. I still recall one that I was particularly proud of. Having learned this trick as a boy scout deciphering hidden messages I sprayed lemon juice on to the soles of my worn Timberland booths, walked across a piece of paper, and then gently heated it from below until the footprints appeared. These I traced on to the T-shirt adding the Levi’s brand and a text saying: “Rebels never go out of style, they just walk away”. Nevertheless, most of the time I just felt bad because my brand clothes weren’t genuine and because I sucked at freehand drawing. This feeling sort of stayed with me until I, many years later when I was studying philosophy, discovered appropriation art.

Much of your artwork is in a way dealing with ready-made or objet trouvé. This concept has been around already since Dada, for a century now; what is still interesting about it, what are the possibilities and limitations in this genre?
In the first year studying philosophy I read both Ursprung des Kunstwerkes by Martin Heidegger and T. W. Adorno’s Ästhetische Theorie, both dealing with the metaphysical and socio-political aspects of art. Popular at the time was also a notion of “aesthetic experience” not being limited to artworks per se but rather used in the attempt to conceptualize a general aesthetic dimension by drawing heavily on romantic philosophy and literary theory. Personally I found all of this a little too romantic, but then I started writing about the readymade strategy combining it with my interest in post-structuralism, which is the best excuse ever for not being original. My main concern was to trace a common productive force that cannot be conceptualized in and by itself, but only retrospective through the differences between the entities it has already created. The point is that it is not the things in themselves but the differentiating principle that is in a way “original”. Cut down to basics, in my opinion this is what Jacques Lacan calls ‘lack’ or ‘absence’, Michel Foucault names it ‘power’, Roland Barthes generalizes ‘writing’ as a sort of ‘reading’ (and vice versa), and Jacques Derrida even makes up this new word ’différance’.
This is heavy stuff I know, but it’s all very important should we be able to see the unrealized potential in the avant-garde’s use of readymades. Most often the avant-garde has been identified with the Hegelian ideal of overcoming the distinction between art and life. Most famous is Peter Bürgers Kritik der Avantgarde, in which he describes the neo-avant-garde of the fifties and sixties as simply the institutionalized version of the historical avant-garde thus making it all to clear how unsuccessful it’s attempt to repeal the category of the artwork really was. Personally, I regard this outspoken ambition as more of a rhetorical tool trying to create a movement towards something new. After all it was indeed a crucial moment in art history when everything no longer had to be created (almost) from nothing (pigment and media, clay and plaster, the raw marble block). The ready-made was a far more realistic way in which art and life can come together.

Inspired by Freud's concept of 'Nachträglichkeit', meaning ‘postponement’ or ‘delay’, as well as the aforementioned notion of 'différance' – a trace left without an original – Hal Foster even claims that the past never ends. Whatever happens later it will keep affecting what once happened. Had the neo avant-garde not taken up the strategies from Dada, Constructivism, Futurism and Surrealism, there would never have been a historical avant-garde. It was the repetition that created the original.

Theorizing the avant-garde in this way offers a peculiar mixture of linear and cyclic time, which means that as an artist you can keep creating new meaning even though everything has already been done several times over. But of course there’s also a downside to all of this. With any “negative” philosophy – be it Adorno’s ‘negative Dialektik’ or Derrida’s so-called deconstruction – the problem is that you stay fixed to whatever it is you’re trying to surpass. For sure this is less rewarding than the “positivity” and vitalism of say deleuzian thinking. I honestly admire anyone who is able to create a world of their own.

Installations involve objects arranged to create a certain space. Can your objects be removed from their installational context, in a way breaking the conception? How significant are the objects taken on their own (i.e. “The Invisible Hand” (2011))?
“The Invisible Hand” was not a very good show. I mean, I still like the works, but in constructing a conceptual unity that could be experienced in real time and space the exhibition definitely failed. I realized that as soon as everything was up and the show opened, and at that moment I promised myself that I would start trying to make exhibitions instead of objects.

Producing singular objects still works well for me with regard to group shows, because here the context is already a given. But when making a solo show, you yourself are responsible for the conceptual framework according to which people should discovered whatever is immediately present in the room. This is still really difficult for me. But the first time I got it just about right was with the show “New Paintings Caught in the Headlights of Parking Cars”.

Critics and art historians are often trying to analyse one's work according to some social or cultural principles. What would you yourself say about the main themes that interest you?
All I care about really is how to find ways to produce new meaning without succumbing to cliché. Which in itself is a cliché, so there you go. To me it seems the distinction that gave The Pictures Generation its name is more acute than ever. On the one hand we have what Duchamp called "retinal art"; something which the viewer perceives as a more or less successful expression of artistic intention and, by extension, certain thematic concerns that have found their way through a special media-specific aesthetics. Whether it’s painting, drawing, photography, sculpture or even installation art it is expected that a moment of truth will occur in the contemplation of the work. On the other hand reality being made up by pictures means that everything in this world, including the aforementioned artworks are always already mediated linguistically as well as perceptually through a variety of social, political, economic and historical structures. It’s these structures that art has an unique ability to visualize and on an experimental level fit together differently.

One could say that you're very much about semantics/semiotics, playing with the meanings of things.
Yes, it's all apples and oranges.

At the moment, new media is widely used in art, but what could be the new direction the field will look in? 
Nowadays, small children try to ‘swipe’ on to the next page when holding a book and pretty soon 3D printers will have become an ordinary toy. And already new generations of artists have been growing up with advanced digital tools ready at hand plus unrestricted access to a large variety of network-based distribution platforms. The situation post-Internet urgently calls for the development of an adequate conceptual framework, but unfortunately this is not within the immediate analytical range of my own work (I got my first computer when I started university!). However, I recently curated a show in Malmö, Sweden called “Distinguished from the melee of user comments and Structurally misogynist chat rooms harboring rapid-fire trolls”. The exhibition did express a sensibility towards the changed conditions of production, distribution and reception in the digital age, which is something I strongly believe that also analogous objects are fully capable of.

When conceptual art in the sixties started to incorporate language as part of its imagery, it didn’t result in a dematerialization of art all together. And the same can be said about the ongoing digitization. This too is an identifiable materiality including yet another set of possibilities in terms of art production. Any number of digital strategies can be grafted on to analogue objects and vice versa.

Could you give us an insight to the installation project to be exhibited in front of Vaal Gallery on May 21? This concept was first presented in 2012, so whose initiative was it to reproduce the installation in Tallinn?
Earlier this year I spent a month in New York and there I met Karin Lansoo who is the director of the Estonian Contemporary Art Development Center. She very much liked my show “New Paintings Caught in the Headlight of Parking Cars”and so she asked me if I would be interested in creating something similar only this time as an outdoor installation. At first I said no, because to me the exhibition was very much related to the place it was shown – a former garage turned exhibition space as it regularly happens as part of the gentrification in major cities – and to the idea of the audience parking inside the gallery hereby physically becoming part of the installation. But giving it some thought I agreed to try it out. I let go of the fluorescent light part of the initial setup – the tubes are in fact designed for outdoor use and it isn’t much fun just putting them where they belong. So the idea now is that the paintings themselves will define five parking spots somewhat like the signs in otherwise public car parks saying “Private Parking” or simply just showing a license plate number.

The brand new paintings will go up on a wall just opposite the entrance, so when people park their car the headlights will be reflected casting a golden light upon the glass façade of Vaal Gallery. This is due to the fact that the paintings or perhaps rather the “paintings” consist solely of a golden reflective foil put on stretchers. These emergency blankets can be found in just about any first aid kit, but they are packed differently and they also vary quite a lot in terms of size and proportions. And now so do the paintings. Together they form a serial variation of different bodily conceptions, since normally these so-called anti-shock blankets are used to wrap around people injured in for instance a car accident. You hereby counter the enormous loss of body heat, which is a result of the shock and which in itself worsens the mental state the victim is in. What this means to me is that a physical everyday material under the right circumstances can actually have a profound physiological effect; sort of like art itself.

Mikkel Carl in conversation in front of Vaal Gallery

Tiina Määrmann from Vaal Gallery and Kadri Laas from ECADC

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