by Charles Guilbert
The arts were turned upside down by the advent of the internet and social media, and photography perhaps more than any other art. The uninterrupted flow of images on the Web creates both anxiety and saturation. This chaos may be echoed in the disturbances that Carl Trahan explored in his exhibition The Nervous Age, in which he revisited nineteenth-century discourses that were both pessimistic and premonitory.1 Notably, he quoted the journalist Stefan Buszczynski, who wrote, in La Décadence de l’Europe (1867, artist’s translation), “One must be deaf not to hear the thunder that growls in the distance.” Engraved on graphite bars arranged on top of each other, these words find a new resonance in an enlightening spatial and temporal shift. Elsewhere, Trahan highlights the sense of spiritual decadence caused by progress by quoting a sentence of Goethe’s, which accompanies two pencil drawings inspired by spirit photographs: “Where there is much light, the shadow is deep” (artist’s translation). Through these two examples, we can catch a glimpse of the basis for Trahan’s work: translation (from one language to another and also from one form to another), disturbing strangeness, politics, and history. In fact, his work will soon be on view at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec; he recently received the museum’s award for contemporary art.
One might wonder what this introduction has to do with the stunning triptychs that Trahan has been presenting daily for two years on his Facebook timeline, for he declares off the top, “I don’t consider this activity to be part of my art practice. These images are found on the Internet, and I don’t alter them, contrary to what I do for my artworks. You might see a sort of curatorship in their association. . . For me, it’s more an amusement, puzzles that I invent for myself.”
Not only is the ambiguous status of this activity problematic, but so is its distribution, as we can see the triptychs only if we are Facebook friends with “C Joseph Wilfrid T.” “I maintain this level of privacy,” Trahan says, “to avoid complaints. The rules on the types of images that you can post on Facebook are very strict. All it takes is for one person to complain and the images will be removed.” By replacing his real name with names that belong to him but are usually hidden, he reveals and conceals at the same time – a state that is not dissimilar to the content of his images. Through this shifted identity, he both opens and distances himself. “It’s a bit like a diary that I’m making. I often try to make it so that the triptych matches the ambience of the day. Sometimes, it’s very sombre …”
Added to this is a lack of clarity with regard to the identity of the creators of the images that Trahan appropriates. “When I know the source of the image, I give it,” he says. “But often it isn’t given on the Internet.” The idea of the author is thus blurred. The images used are of all genres – documentary, art, advertising, science, family, pornography, and more…
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