Merlin Carpenter is an artist and painter whose painting practice, in order to reflect on itself, does not hesitate to go beyond its limits and extends towards other mediums or fields. In parallel with this he keeps a conscientious and evolving eye on issues of institutional critique or contemporary versions of “contextual” art. He constantly questions his medium, its appearance and existential conditions, as well as what it means to be an artist today within the machinery of capitalism.
Basing his work on Marx’s theories of value (as shown in the many theoretical writings which accompany his artistic practice¹ ), in his view the artistic critique is no longer content with acting as an example of development for capital: though it stigmatises and condemns, being caught in capital’s grip itself, it acts directly for it. Also, each of Merlin Carpenter’s projects is a chance taken to react to the various crises punctuating the recent history of capitalism, even if they impose a conceptual reversal on them, sometimes subtracting themselves in this contradiction. Aware that capitalism always emerges more strengthened than weakened by these crises, he looks for some other way to maintain a certain intellectual and artistic freedom.
If we take the view that visitors of cultural sites now have a consumer reflex, are consumers of culture, of art; then some of his recent exhibitions have aimed to hinder the satisfaction of the immediate desire of the visitor/consumer. In these exhibitions, hidden, concealed works are created with materials that are considered poor or improper for art. And when he makes figurative paintings, enabling him to give viewers what they appear to need to satisfy their desires, these have something encrypted; they are either kitsch, or are well-painted but their subject does not offer itself in an immediate way. In so doing, Merlin Carpenter gladly admits that his art has something to do with the creation of value, and though it can appear abstruse, deceptive or sometimes iconoclastic, the artist believes that every anti-aesthetic or anti-spectacular approach, which still had a strong critical or subversive connotation a few years ago, is now doomed to be academic and even decorative, to become a cliché of “contemporary art”, negating the expected effect. So it is here that he believes it is most relevant to act, in those interstices where capital absorbs what opposes its logic. Merlin Carpenter therefore does not make art just to produce art, but to highlight the context of his art, the situation in which it is made and evolves. Where others consider this whole apparatus of the establishment of art’s value to be secondary, the artist chooses an aesthetic approach that brings it to the fore. If his work tends not to represent an end in itself, or has ends other than its own, he finds himself in an endless operation in an ever-more unpredictable social context.
The exhibition archive élastique takes as its point of departure the Synagogue de Delme’s location, the road running through the village, on which numerous lorries and wide loads circulate. In the middle of a rural area, this traffic is irritating. France is a distribution machine. Also—and because the synagogue/exhibition space is located at the side of that road—the artist proposes to make it into a warehouse or archival storage space, in which one finds thousands of boxes, awaiting transportation. Right in front of the synagogue entrance is a forklift, parked and ready to load the pallets into lorries for hypothetical delivery. But since no forklift of this kind could get through the door, the vehicle is doomed to wait outside.
(1) See for example Merlin Carpenter, “The Outside Can’t Go Outside”, Institut für Kunstkritik, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2018.
This exhibition is supported by Fluxus Art Projects.