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interview by Uffe Holm & Mikkel Carl

(word file: )

Uffe Holm:
Congratulations on your exhibition. It looks great. There is a couple of works, I wish, I had made. The way I see it, we share some focal points and ways of approaching materials. Actually I went straight home after the opening and signed up on Facebook once again, a place where others feel the same way, I do. Something tells me, that we are dealing with a common language rather than with a unique approach.

Mikkel Carl:
I think you are right to accentuate the linguistic turn. A thing that is quite common, and which you and I also have in common, is a linguistic approach to art; to engage art on the basis of some kind of diagrams or structures related to structural linguistics, and to acknowledge this as part of the art production’s perceptual basis. At least that’s my conviction. The body of course has it’s own stratum, layers through which it sees and senses, but the question is, what status do these pieces of information finally obtain? To me, that’s a productive approach; first, to analyze visual phenomena in a linguistic manner in order to find out what components their visual logic is made of. And, secondly, to combine these components in a new way that hopefully comes as a surprise not only to the mind but also to the body. As a visual artist I long to see structures materialized in objects. So this rather specific linguistic approach is initially a method of production. Whereas the texts that I do write might be considered a supplement, in the derridean sense of the word; something that alters the unity it is suppose to fulfil. My works are visual objects marked by language; codifications of our linguistic yet sensuous dealings with the world.

Some of your works seems immediately intelligible, whereas some of the others are quite inaccessible, or at least they require some kind of explanatory text. Are your texts recipes or subsequent rationalizations and to what extent, is Wikipedia relevant?

The great thing about Wikipedia is her delicate voice explaining everything as “a matter of fact”. The texts that accompany some of my works use a voice quite similar to this. It’s strange yet soothing objectivity simply makes it possible for me to claim plausible connections between points, which might seem quite far apart, had they been expressed otherwise. The texts try to merge art history and personal mythology into a kind of objective poetry. Having finished or nearly finished the works, I wrote these texts to clarify some of the metaphorical structures that are part of the visual phenomena, I chose to work with, for example: A copy of a Danish design chair from the eighties, an AK-47 airgun, a wooden “African” sculpture purchased in the nearest supermarket. On the basis of these elements and their supposed conceptual force I started out making the works, and then all kinds of things happened. I believe this to be a contemporary method of production, which is quite characteristic for many artists in our generation. The conceptual part is something we take for granted. Art that returns to a formal investigation or which is conceived of as a bodily expression supposed to affect other bodies, through some kind of media, has proved unsatisfactory to us. But most importantly the concept needs to be a frame both strong and yet very flexible if it is to remain receptive to the dynamics inherent in materiality. That is the gap between the texts and the works, the time and the place where the concept gets twisted by the very same reality that the concept itself tries to turn around. Following this line of production some of the transformations appear for what they are and the resultant works are therefore quite accessible. A chair mutated into an abstract corner relief, or the word “Dada” written by a number of bullets shot into a piece of polystyrene trough a spray of colours. These are forces you immediately understand as having already produced their conclusions. But there are also other types of works, for instance Flurry (analogical), where hours of video recordings of rotating coloured light bulbs are edited to look almost like the iBook screensaver. This might be considered the exhibition’s very own screen saver, an empty yet poetic breath of air. And to mention yet another type there is also the Sexy Beast, a Rorschach-resembling ink jet print, where one half is downscaled by 50 % to form an impossible symmetry. In this case it might be an aesthetic relief to read a thorough account of the Rorschach-tests and, for instance, how they are conducted with American military officers to test their imaginations. That is, regardless of the fact that this account might be fictitious. In this way the texts might bring forth associations that are unconscious, just as the Rorschach was originally intended to do.

Are the works to be considered deductive, and is it important to be able to figure them out?

At least they are constructed using a kind of addition. They are made by an aggregation of things. Or rather, the works are made of an accumulating of differences. Studying philosophy at university I spent almost four years tracing the “original” differential principle, Derrida calls “differance”, a coined term meaning difference, differentiation and deferral. Although there are many differences, I see this figure as a kind of equivalent in French post-structural thinking. Foucault’s term “power” and Barthes’ concept of “writing” share the strange nonlinear spatio-temporality of “difference”. What is important here is that differentiating in a very odd way comes before unity. It is the possibility of being different from something else that creates identity. But logically you can’t actually recognise the difference as a difference of something before it has made self-identical entities become present. So to me as an artist everything starts with differentiation. Metaphorically speaking the world is divided into binaries or opposites like black/white, male/female, positive/negative (it’s always great to imagine a smooth and moist difference between inside and outside) and in many cases like deep/high or deep/superficial the differences are already rewriting each other. That is why I use the phrase “a linguistic approach to art”. A word is not defined by reference to an object but simply by reference to every other word as being a little different from them. This means that the word “milk” doesn’t in any way refer to a white liquid in a carton. “Milk“ is exclusively defined on the basis of its varying degrees of difference from “chair”, “table” etc. I believe that something quite similar applies to what we, for want of a better name, call reality. But the differences, we already know, are not very interesting, so when I produce a work of art I try to displace them with another object or maybe even with the differences between a third and a fourth thing. And I keep going until I have an object sufficiently suggestive and poetic. It needs to be something you intuitively know is changing the lines of thought by which you normally comprehend certain phenomena. And if you try hard enough you might come closer to a new and more interesting stability, but some remnants will always be untouched, an incomprehensible residue. So clearly the works don’t add up, which became quite clear when I talked to people during the exhibition. They came up with some very interesting lines of association. But I do presume that associations can actually be considered right or wrong in any given case. If you for instance are discussing a poem concerning the sun and someone claims that it reminds him of football because the sun is round and so is the ball, you need to ask; does the poem contain structures which in any way refer to sport or physical activity? If that’s not the case, then the association is wrong, meaning simply that it is relevant only to the person who’s personal history made him responsive to this very thought. But associational patterns of a more general interest do exist, some of which may be attributed to the works. And concerning these my access is not in any way exclusive. I can only manage just enough sensibility to actually produce the works. Seeing the black square made out of a woven scarf put on stretchers one visitor did mention a recent discussion in Denmark concerning the status of Muslim women wearing scarves especially in public office. It’s an issue, which I, no matter how evident it might seem now, didn’t have in mind. I was restricted to political connections of a somewhat more mythological kind; first of all the condemnation of figuration common for Jews, Muslims and high Modernism, and it’s connection with the abstract social figuration of Russian Constructivism. I always try to work with things, which in some way have become mythological, because their symbolic structures at this stage and in this grand scale have been stabilized to the point where they once again begin to rupture. Kind of like the crackles in a puddle of mud drying up. The problem with present day political debates is that they employ so simple a metaphorical gaze that it prevents you from putting forward anything but the opposite. I really don’t want to state the opposite of anything.

When I googled your exhibition title “Sky above, Heaven below” I got a You-tube hit on an award winning Chinese short film with a heavy “the spirit is free as a bird” metaphor where you catch a glimpse of a small girl next to some swastika ornamented wood. Considered slang the title refers to the cunt, the heaven below, and might be seen as a young man’s aspirations to eternity. Can one actually see too far in this pea soup?

I suppose all these connotations are beautiful search results. I have been quite taken by the pop-metaphysical and partly erotic universe that Yves Klein drew up with his IKB colour. And all along I have imagined an abstract blue sky, reflecting itself in water. Once again it’s all about the difference between up and down, original and copy, idea and phenomena. At the same time I wanted the distinction between heaven and the sky to slip, to get metaphysics down to earth so to speak.

By its title and choice of materials your work “Objet Trouvé” explicitly comments on the rest of the exhibition and on the history of ready-mades. The ipod and the piece of wood slaps as refined bad taste and Cabaret Voltaire is dealing with Baader-Meinhoff as well as sex. The text accompanying the work is both historical and personal. Are you entering your name in an art historical context? Or are you more of a synaptic machine, antennas protruding, a son of the present?

I don’t think the two of them are opposed to each other. If you want to be part of art history nowadays I suppose you need to start authoring history in a quite different manner. The work you refer to contains an outline of another kind of art history. As accumulated chronology it contaminates modernistic time-hygiene, but is also very critical of any reflective hermeneutics habitually stating that we simply understand the past through our own present moment. The history of the “Objet Trouvé” is about reversed traces, how something in the present leave imprints in the past. If my sculptural deconstruction of Picasso is sufficient it actually changes his works some 100 years ago. I know it sounds a bit strange, and I can’t quite explain this feeling. But it might have something to do with the fact that I don’t distinguish between discourse and so-called reality. Discourse re-negotiates reality all the time. It’s like that person in Terry Gilliam’s dystopian movie 12 Monkeys, who says, “I don’t believe in germs.” Anyway, it’s this conception of a reversed exchange between the present and the past that supply my works with part of their meaning. Consequently three primary zones of interference are active in my artistic practice: The historical avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde and appropriation art of the 80’s. Their common ground is consciousness of the fact that they don’t start from scratch. They always start with something already there. If you are part of a neo-avant-garde movement your outset is obviously the avant-garde, which in turn started out with found or all-ready-made objects. So when I enter my name in art history it is to prescribe another type of dynamic, a progression different from the orthodox linearity of time. I would like to contribute to an understanding of progress, different from the one that quite ironically gave the avant-garde its name and was a classical part of its self-consciousness. If measured by these outdated terms, I reckon it isn’t possible to produce anything new. I’m quite aware that this is a point already worn out, but at least it has lost its strained atmosphere due to the course of time. But what should we do if we assume that contemporary art isn’t something completely unfortunate? My answer would be combines, combinations in a time that keeps reaching back into itself. Whenever that is, art’s significance is far from exhausted.

Being an artist, do you fetishize the world or the part you play, á la the poet?

Godfather of surrealism, André Breton defined the readymade as an object, bought or found, given surplus value alone by the artist. This entailed a certain perspective on the early reception of the ready-made. There was a disproportionate focus on the critical potentiality in the fact, that otherwise trivial objects were worshipped within the art institution. It is therefore important to bear in mind that Marcel Duchamp, when not caught up in his own rhetoric of indifference, claimed to have found only a very limited number of objects suited to be ready-mades. This actually means that the object you lay your eyes upon needs to posses certain structural qualities, that, even though you are to assist it in some way, makes it interesting to call it art. It is the attributes that makes this manoeuvre worthwhile. This is in part what the press release suggests, when it promises that, “…The artist will be present as fetish”. Being the artist it is I who certifies that all the objects at this exhibition are artworks, implying things that might not seem very special at first. By this I emphasize my own approach, the rigorous logic of context that I work with. You see the works but you’re also very much confronted with the signature; the possibility, that these objects were close to nothing before the artist came around and claimed them to be something, that they might have been all along.