Life’s great existential questions are the foundation of Carl Trahan’s current research. For over fifteen years, language, translation, and philosophy have been his main areas of focus. What is our place in the universe? What is the meaning of life? How do we reconcile the darkest events in the history of humanity, like fascism—which the artist spent many years exploring—and the existence of moral values that should dictate our behaviour? For guidance, Trahan has turned to the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, Lord Byron, and William Butler Yeats, among others. Recently, visual artists from the early 20th century have also held his attention, namely Theo van Doesburg and Hilma af Klint, who have often associated their explorations of abstraction to their personal spiritual quests. Presenting Trahan’s work among the MAJ’s collection of religious artifacts highlights the relationships between the ideas underlying his practice and the questions shared by many believers.
Light breaking through the darkness is an image found as much in philosophy—the triumph of reason over the unknowable—as in the context of faith—the presence of the comforting divine easing our fear of mortality. While existential angst fueled by uncertainty, doubt, and guilt may be overcome by modern philosophers advocating for self-realization and self-sufficiency, Catholicism proposes another path. Embracing human fragility and vulnerability as a way to turn our dependence into strength may allow us to move forward with equanimity. While modernity has led us to become highly autonomous, this solitary road has sometimes resulted in less fulfillment and a more profound sense of disorientation, a sentiment shared by many of the authors Trahan quotes.
A chunk of meteorite sits next to the embodied form of a void produced by the joining of two hands. The insignificance of human life, when measured against the scale of the universe, is made visible in this association opens the exhibition in a tone of anxious humility—or perhaps it is the conceit of power suggested by the equivalence of these two fragments. Elsewhere, clarity and breakthrough adjoin darkness and holes, turbulence and the phenomenon of dissolution. To whom or to what does this sun—this light—refer to, as it shines its cold and merciless light upon us? Does it bring joyous illumination, or cause blindness that leads to wandering and confusion? Indecision. Hesitation. In his book Comment peut-on être catholique? [How can we be Catholic?] the philosopher Denis Moreau states that Christianity is “a powerful challenger or critic of certain aspects of modernity,” perhaps because, in his words, his ultimate commandment is to live happily, from this moment on. Many of the authors Trahan refers to struggle to accomplish this demanding task. Let’s bet they aren’t alone.
Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre
Curator of Contemporary Art
The artist acknowledges the support of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts.
Image in the banner:
View of the exhibition Away From All Suns, Carl Trahan, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2021. Photo : Romain Guilbault.
Born in Montreal, Carl Trahan has since 2011 been developing multidisciplinary work that explores the period between the Industrial Revolution and World War II. He uses certain events, literary works and historical texts—as well as the work of contemporary authors who analyze them—as a starting point to focus notably on the spiritual crisis linked to the scientific and technological advances of modernity, as well as its repercussions on the culture and politics of Europe that led to the great world wars.