Power Floats Like Money, like Language, like Theory
Mikkel Carl’s exhibition at Viborg Kunsthal is a site-specific intervention as well as a discursive and aesthetic critique of power, seeking to address and further challenge the apparent paradox that painting stubbornly survives one death declaration after another.
Characteristically, for Mikkel Carl, the exhibition: Power Floats like Money, like Language, like Theory, in the East Wing of Viborg Kunsthal, takes as its starting point the location, which during the 18th century, was the biggest brandy wine distillery in Viborg featuring three large boilers containing 1.000, 1.900 and 2.300 liters, respectively.
By way of Carl’s interpretation, these boilers became three curved and interconnected rooms in which the viewer can ‘float through’ making her way through the show. At first, the three-meter-high, semicircular walls of this central sculpture appear as if created by cold rolled steel plates welded onto slim, underlying supports. However, upon further inspection, one realizes that it is, in fact, a painting – a highly realistic set piece.
Through this orchestration, which can be seen as a thorough aesthetic abstraction concerning the aforementioned distillery boilers, the location’s historic transformation from an industrial facility to an exhibition venue for contemporary art enters the picture.
The appertaining term ‘creative knowledge production’ twists and turns by way of the exhibition title: Power Floats like Money, like Language, like Theory, which is a quote by French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard describing the postmodern condition as a time where the stable and well-known structures of society erode due to an increasingly mimetic civilization.
Surplus value (power) is turned upside down, so that a similar looking copy takes precedence on the expense of the, in every possible way, more authentic original - postmodernism is when the geographical map becomes more important than the landscape, where man can no longer see the difference between the representation and what is represented.
Carl skillfully simulates metal: Heavyweight, and with plenty of lifelike splashes of real rust, the work is highly convincing, seductive even – a real ’simulacrum’ as Baudrillard would have it.
Rust applied to the sculptural elements mimics non-figurative painting’s great expectations and thereby becomes a sort of ‘code’ or ‘nature’ present on the curved surfaces of the spatial objects.
Yours truly cannot help draw a parallel to the 1979 landmark record Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young, where the title is part appropriation of a rust oil ad and part statement from the artist, who with this album sets a new agenda challenging punk in the acknowledgment that rock-n-roll must either break new ground or die.
For a long time, this has also been the case for painting. The painter must continuously challenge the format, and Mikkel Carl has steeled himself to do so: On the whitewashed walls on the lower floor of the exhibition space hang a series of objects with concave, and chrome-plated (pictorial) surfaces.
These peculiar hybrids, which are neither objects nor straight-up paintings, are ditto simulacra, with their surface covered by a thin chrome-like foil reflecting the surroundings, and through rough working have gained ‘patina’ and ‘random’ touches of molten metal. A purely aesthetic gesture, which brings to mind the dirty industry that used to be the mainspring of modern industrial society, and yet it also points to the mirror-like surfaces of today.
Machine of seduction
The link between the fading history of the location, an alluring physical presence and the abstract value of the art objects as ambiguous cultural signifiers in dialogue with the beholder, who frictionlessly moves through this semi minimalistic machine of seduction, results in a destabilization. This destabilization is partly directed toward the arts, which poses and mimes, and partly toward the beholder, who permits herself to be seduced by the convincing surfaces, and still, she might notice that they are not quite what they seem. Who has the power in such a space?
In light of Baudrillard’s analysis of society, this question points to the problem we tend to have with recognizing and catching sight of the things in a world which first and foremost is characterized by its many layers of information and seductive surfaces.
The transition from industrial to informational society is also the transition from solid to liquid means of orientation. In Viborg Kunsthal, Mikkel Carl succeeds in mixing abstract cultural, political, and economic references giving rise to a distinct, extended category of the artwork, whereby theory and language merge, prompting a reconsideration of the very meeting with art and its boundaries.
Subtle critique of society
The fact that the installation Power Floats like Money, like Language, like Theory has been created especially for Viborg Kunsthal is definitely its strength, since the wall objects and the sculpture overall work really well in the architecturally distinct boiler room—in some places showing a forceful materiality of exposed natural stones and bricks—with double ceiling height in the middle of the room and a balustrade of glass.
In this context, Mikkel Carl’s simulated minimalism works as a critical comment on how minimalism’s original focus on the relation between beholder, art object, and space has degenerated into the business models of today and to which we are exposed through an ever-increasing experience economy and omnipresent social media ruthlessly exploiting these exact relations.
Displacing the balance of power
Postmodern man prefers an artificial and improved ersatz world, as opposed to an actual relation to real reality.
Once we have lost the ability to distinguish between reality and its representations, the traditional tripartition of power is challenged: The legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of power are no longer the stable columns on which society rests. Power relations are shifting and making themselves present via, among other things, money, language, and theory, as pointed out by Mikkel Carl in the exhibition title quoting Baudrillard.
Thus, we can view the artistic manifestation of Mikkel Carl as a form of ‘applied theory’ where he seeks to hold on to painting as such while, at the same time, challenging our comprehension of painterly representation.
The exhibition offers the beholder an interesting shuttle between, on the one side, being related to physical space, and on the other, that which occurs only inside our heads.
Trine Rytter Andersen
curator, and critic at Kunsten.nu