Mikkel Carl’s artistic practice undoubtedly develops a thematic, which ranks among the most urgent ones in the field of contemporary art – the relationship between language and perceptual experience, concept and materiality. This takes place through a cross-media practice, which often enters into a critically inspired dialogue with some of the efforts of 20th century avant-garde and neo-avant-garde movements, in particular Conceptual Art and Minimal Art. Accordingly, he shows a continuing interest in ‘found’ objects, which are modified and staged anew in order to displace their original registers of aesthetic and semantic content. We recognize here an affinity with Dadaist ready-mades, the unexpected and ‘fantastic’ combinations of Surrealist assemblages, and above all postmodernism’s strategies of appropriation; and inspiration is provided more specifically by engagement with some branches of industrial design, fashion, as well as popular and material culture.
In terms of the various sources, subjects and stylistic impulses employed or ‘borrowed’, the works take a stand that is ironic and contesting in equal measure. However, Mikkel Carl is not satisfied with merely placing the exhibited objects in exchange with consumer society’s already existing social signs and their field of connotation. For it is characteristic of his practice that it involves a semiotic approach to cultural production, insisting that art objects gain meaning in the context of an exhibition primarily as a result of their individual as well as their interrelated capacity for substitution and serial opposition. The grouping of artworks and their internal organization of meaning thus becomes a demonstration of a particular visual grammar vis-à-vis the distinctive material properties and connotative interfaces of the objects displayed. Through subtle modifications and by removing artifacts from their familiar circumstances and environments, the artist orchestrates a play of meaning in which certain iconographic and/or stylistic similarities and associative connections both motivate and challenge the underlying structural consistency.
This means that in terms of the criteria for selecting specific objects Mikkel Carl often works with a combination of exoteric and esoteric elements, i.e. something almost all too familiar is connected in a more or less cryptic manner, thus explicitly appealing to many types of viewer engagement and investment of knowledge. This is how his artistic practice never solely refers to a self-referring universe or a personal mythologizing, but rather continuously inscribes itself in history – and in particular the history of the avant-garde.
While the avant-garde is usually associated with the dematerialization of the artwork, hence transforming the context of art into a cultural endgame, Mikkel Carl is more readily interested in recovering the ‘unwritten’ or not-yet-acknowledged tradition of the ready-made – which involves how the meaning of culturally commodified objects is communicated through the imaginative sensations of the body. This especially holds true for the part of his work that first and foremost attempts to connect fundamental phenomenological and semiotic categories. With an insisting presence these works often present themselves as spatial installations, clearly blurring the boundaries between inside and outside; and because visual seduction is certainly there the works often succeed in changing the viewers’ patterns of behavior and even imposing upon them a bodily vulnerability.
Furthermore, Mikkel Carl’s awareness of tradition takes place on a thoroughly tactical and well-considered basis insofar as his artistic practice includes previous (modernist) experiences, genre conventions, and forms of critique. Moreover, the works emphasize certain aspects of art history that are very often overlooked – such as e.g. the visual ‘exactness’ and flawless design inherent in many ready-mades. By working methodically with repetition, re-contextualization and the radicalization of the material properties of the art object, ‘inverse’ or retroactive traces in history are generated. And by maintaining the question as to what actually counts as artistic meaning – and not just what constitutes the meaning of an object as such – Mikkel Carl sets out to re-emphasize how the sensory object and the immaterial sign become one.
Text by Anders Gaardboe, director of Holstebro Kunstmuseum
The text was originally published in the catalogue accompanying The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts' MFA degree show EXIT at Kunstforeningen GL STRAND, Copenhagen. It was later revised.