As an artist, writer, freelance curator, and now curating a section of the new CODE Art Fair that’s coming to the city, Mikkel Carl has some big ideas on the current state of the art world.
Here, we caught up with Mikkel Carl to talk about his own artistic practice, how the collecting scene is changing in Denmark, the CODE Art fair, and why social media has got a lot to answer for.
Tell us about your history with art and how it all began.MIKKEL CARL
Growing up in the late eighties – I come from a lower-middle class background in Denmark – we couldn’t 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 onto my home-knit sweater. Later, I made my own “Levi’s” T-shirt. Having learned the trick as a boy scout, deciphering hidden messages, I sprayed lemon juice onto 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 then traced onto a T-shirt adding the Levi’s brand and my slogan saying: “Rebels never go out of style, they just walk away”. Or so the story goes. Most of the time, I just felt bad because my “branded” clothes weren’t genuine and because I sucked at freehand drawing. This feeling sort of stayed with me until I discovered appropriation art.
A lot of your work features digital pieces and new media – is it a concern for you to remain “contemporary” in this field?MIKKEL CARL
Small children now try to ‘swipe’ when holding a “real” book, and 3D printers have more or less become an ordinary toy. Already +1 generation of artists have been growing up with highly advanced digital tools ready at hand and unrestricted access to a large variety of network-based distribution platforms. This situation of Post-Internet is unfortunately not within my immediate analytical range; I got my first computer when I started university! However, my work does express some sensibility towards the changed conditions of production, distribution and reception in the digital age, which is something (perhaps here lies the major difference between Net art and post-Internet art) that also objects more or less ‘zuhanden’ (as Heidegger would put it) are fully capable of.
My anodized Apple G4 Titanium PowerBooks is an example at hand. These computers are from a time (2001) where futuristic consumer fetishism amounted to this space age material per se, but when conferring with the new BMW i3 hybrid (recycled aluminium, carbon fibre enforced synthetic materials and certified eucalyptus tree) titanium now seems about as progressive as the space shuttles it flew in on. Anyway, I had been working with anodization of titanium for a while – when exposed to power this particular material permanently chance color due to a microscopic layer of crystals that builds on the surface refracting the light – when art critic and freelance curator Toke Lykkeberg wrote in a catalogue text: “Mikkel Carl’s work becomes a strange fusion of off-screen and on-screen, of hardware and software. It’s as if an image would suddenly show on the back of your MacBook screen.” There it was! I started buying titanium laptops on eBay experimenting with different ways of “painting” and presenting them; floating in space on a glass pedestals, lying broken on the floor, screens nailed to the wall, and in one case “mimicking” a video called “Chameleon” playing on it.
Your work is often installation based or site-specific – does this impact on what type of collector is interested in your work?MIKKEL CARL
When I recently had a solo presentation with Last Resort at Art Rotterdam I tried to have my cake and eat it too. Alongside the new series of anodized titanium paintings I presented ‘A thing is a hole in the thing it is not, 2016’ (2012), which meant that you would only (due to strict Dutch fire regulations this wasn’t entirely the case) enter the fair booth through a large hole cut in the extra length of wall that had been installed with the specific purpose of blocking the entrance. And we actually came pretty close to selling that hole, but in the end the party interested ended up with two paintings instead. For my show at ANNAELLEGALLERY in Stockholm I did something quite similar. Alongside my faux marble cut-out paintings, and a copy of my brutally chopped off right arm rendered fully eatable in marzipan, white chocolate, and red frosting I dressed a partition wall existing between the main space and the project room with plain drywall. Depending on how well the viewer knew the place – the gallery is moving up in the world and this was only the third show in at their new, larger and otherwise immaculate location – it seemed strangely unfinished or as what you might call a spatial flashback.
Do you have any collectors of your work, and if so, how important is the role of a collector to your practice?MIKKEL CARL
Over the years, works of mine have been acquired by a number of good collectors both here in Denmark and internationally. Though I must say that it has proven far easier to sell anodized titanium paintings, than for instance, a remote-controlled, helium-filled shark, a broken greenhouse, or a vaginal Fleshlight© inserted into the wall. But just now one of the greatest Danish collectors decided to go for ‘No Woman is an Island’, 2015, which is basically a desert island complete with pinkish coral sand and an artificial coconut palm bearing fruits. Generally, I don’t work with any particular audience in mind, as I focus solely on the internal logic of the objects and on their more generalized “situatedness” with relation to the commercial agenda of the gallery or the public demands of the art institution.
How important is the role of a collector to an artist?MIKKEL CARL
It obviously depends on the artist. And on the collector, and the more specific nature of their relationship. An artist like Danh Vo – curating “Slip of the Tongue” at Punta Della Dogana in Venice last year – certainly benefitted from the relation to François Pinault. Or perhaps rather, they benefitted immensely from each other. Because not only did it enable Vo to curate an all-inclusive group show that did more or less everything Okwui Enwezor was trying to do just across the canal. He was also able to highlight a significant number of his own works – had the context been slightly different, this would have been a “faux pas – boosting Pinault’s collection with both street cred and institutional rigor along the way.
As well as an artist, you are also a curator for Copenhagen’s newest art fair, CODE ART FAIR. Can you tell us more about CODE and what we can expect from the fair?MIKKEL CARL
Four years ago a small group of Danish galleries decided to make a new Nordic art fair called Chart, cleverly presenting it within Kunsthal Charlottenborg (a renowned public institution always in need of a larger audience). This year, finally recovering from the shell shock, the people behind the old art fair have taken matters into their own hands and are now transforming the local Art Copenhagen into something else entirely: CODE Art Fair, the first international art fair in Scandinavia! So I guess anything can happen come August, when it all goes down in Bella Center’s Crystal Hall, a magnificent glass and steal structure swarmed in daylight.
You might argue that our carefully selected group of international galleries are more or less the same as you see everywhere else, but that doesn’t account for the fact that since most of them have never previously been present in this region the level of anticipation is very high – on both sides. Almost all the gallerists and collectors (and artists) I’ve spoken to are super excited about the whole thing, and potentially CODE could have a huge impact on the Nordic art scene. Phenomenal galleries like Vilma Gold, Peres Projects and Nagel Draxler are here. Kai Matsumiya from New York and Anonymous Gallery from Mexico City – I think they did one of the most interesting presentations at Zona Maco – are visiting Europe for the first time. And besides, we assist the galleries to some customization of their presentations. Galerie König is for instance bringing Tue Greenfort, who is internationally acclaimed having shown both at Documenta and Skulptur Projecte Münster, but nevertheless has the potential to become the next “new” thing among Danish collectors.
What role does a curator play when working for an art fair?MIKKEL CARL
Art advisor Christina Wilson and Danish collectors Peter Ibsen and Claus Busch Risvig have primarily been selecting the galleries participating in the fair. I’ve had my fair saying in this, but initially I was brought on to curate an individual show part of the fair (Ryan Steadman & Ryan Wallace has a similar role).
As I started thinking about the peculiar context – the exhibition is there to legitimize the more straightforward monetary aspects of the event, and yet the works are for sale – I came up with a concept that I’m quite fond of: “Danmark”. It derives its title from Danish artist Jens Haaning’s eponymous work in which the name of the country where the exhibition takes place is spelled out in large capital letters taking up an entire wall. And so the exhibition will feature only Danish artists with no gallery representation in Denmark. It’ll be a mix of people still in school, like Ivan Pérard and Asger Dybvad Larsen, fairly young artists like Christian Falsnaes and Ditte Gantriis, and more well-established names like the afore-mentioned Jens Haaning, who worked with Nicolai Wallner for many years, and Ann Lieslegaard who until recently was a professor at The Royal Danish Academy.
What is the collecting scene like in Copenhagen?MIKKEL CARL
I guess it’s a little conservative to my liking. But hey, so is the art scene in general. Besides, I’m an artist, and aren’t artists supposed to criticize collectors and institutions for not being radical enough (that is unless they promote their particular work). The good news is that Denmark is an extremely well educated country with a very high average income per citizen and a growing appetite for contemporary art, so when you think about it that way, there’s plenty of room for a market expansion.
Do you collect any art? If so, who and if not, which artist would you like to have in your collection?MIKKEL CARL
I recently got appointed by the Minister of Culture to be on the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee of Visual Arts Grants Funding. So, for the next four years I’ll be acquiring works of art for one of the most significant collections in Denmark. But, personally, I have never been particularly focused on actually obtaining works. Perhaps I should have been? Naturally, as an artist you know, and know of, a lot of great artists years before any commercial or institutional breakthrough.
Occasionally I do swap with one of my peers though. Especially in the years before I started selling any work, this transaction also suited the important role of clearing out the studio and in return get something you could stand looking at.
And now that you are asking, I would like to have one of Artie Vierkant’s Image Objects: the Warhol silk-screens of the digital age. You buy the object, but that’s really not the whole picture. And if I could also get one of the reliefs of sorts that Daniel Keller showed at his solo at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler last year, I would really appreciate it. I don’t recall having seen figure and ground more intelligently and beautifully intertwined than in “Kai <3 Dalston”.
Where do you think the future of collecting is headed?MIKKEL CARL
If I could answer that question I would soon be very rich. No, seriously, I know it gets tiresome to keep bringing up how social media has disrupted the information flow of the meritocratic (and has been a smoking gun in the hands of downright speculators), but it never ceases to amaze me that large monochrome paintings viewed on a 4´´screen get a ton of comments like “mind blowing”, “sublime” etc. Something IS wrong with that picture… I guess the ever-expanding list of international art fairs – now I’m working my ass off to add one – is the spatial matrix (and a growing source) for this feed. “One thing after another…” as Donald Judd would put it meaning quite the opposite.
Personally I would love for space, real physical space, to be resituated into contemporary art. Instead of Instagram’s washed out white background could we please have some contours? A heightened awareness of the situation or context, which helped bring a specific object of desire into the “real” world. Or perhaps that is against the basic idea of acquiring something to put in YOUR collection?