Thursday, March 12, 2020

Crit: Frédérick Carnet, New Era

I periodically circle back to M. Carnet who is truly one of my favorites. He's particularly apropos today, since he's one of those artists who is working at what looks to me the "edge of meaning" and is consistently hitting the groove, that point where the ideas are genuinely new, but just before the wheels fall off and the work disintegrates into gibberish.

I've written about two pieces he's done, before: "The Last First Day", and "The promise of a better world?" which are connected works. He's working on a third piece, "My Homeland has only one name: Peace" which feels like a conclusion, or, hmm, something to finish the larger piece anyways.

You can see all this material on his web site: Frédérick Carnet but I will note that if you click on the "Meine Heimat..." ("My Homeland") link under "Nouvelle ère" ("New era") you will NOT, as of this writing, get that work in progress. You have to click the other "Meine Heimat..." link available at the top of the navigation under "Nouvelles." I would provide a direct link but I can't figure out how to.


In the first piece, "The Last First Day," we saw a strong style in play, depicting ambiguously some kind of apocalyptic vision. The scale and nature of the disaster was not clear, but the sense of some sort of disaster was clear. The pictures interlinked graphically back and forth in a very satisfying kind of way, and we were free to project a lot of meaning on to the work. At least from my point of view, it sat — and continues to sit — in a very satisfying spot. The arc of meaning is clear, but there's plenty of room for my imagination as well. The artist neither lazily forces me to do all the work, nor dictates all the details to me.

The followup, "The promise of a better world?" was clearly linked to the first. The style notes were there, a lot of the same creepy notes, the same densely interlinked pictures making graphical citations back and forth. Indeed, the tone starts out similarly, but the difference is that it turns and opens up into a more optimistic place by the end. It suggests, maybe, the trials and hope of a new beginning after the disaster of the first chapter. Again, the arc of meaning is clear, but the details are left to the viewer to fill in or not as they choose.

And now with the chapter "Meine Heimat..." we have something new.

It occurs to us when we look at the new thing, I think, that the first two were distinctly fictional. They had not struck me so, but now they do. There is something cinematic or allegorical about the first two. We are, as it were, being told a story but it's not entirely real, whereas this last chapter is real as shit. "Heimat" is a word associated with some Germanic notion of nationalism, blood & soil, Vaterland, etc. I can't quite tell if it's standard extremist nationalism that so many nations enjoy, or if it truly is a distinctly German sin, but Germans seem to think the latter. Whatever it means, M. Carnet is re-claiming it for himself, and using it in his own way.

I have to admit that I blanched when I saw the documents reproduced. This is such an awful trope! But the mechanic is not itself terrible, it's completely neutral. The trouble with documents is that they're deployed by terrible artists making terrible work so often. M. Carnet isn't making terrible work here.

No, this new chapter is real life. M. Carnet is opening himself up, a touch of history, a touch of his personal future. We are seeing his very real life, his real concerns and fears, his real joys. In just a handful for pictures (for now) it's just a sketch, a few lines on the page.

There remains a strong visual connection to the previous chapters, you can tell these belong with those, but they are different. The drumbeat of the centered singular object largely drops out. The sky remains, the treatment of tone and color remain. Some sensation I cannot put my finger on remains, something I might be imagining. Some flavor. Anyways, these feel like they belong with those, yet are different.

I see "Meine Heimat..." not so much as a final chapter as maybe a framing device. As a last chapter it's a sudden fall to earth, an abrupt confrontation of reality after the deliciously scary allegories we're been enjoying. But as a basis, as a start and an end, I think it provides a foundation or a frame to support those allegories, inside of which to experience those dreams.

This whole thing is maybe a man, an ordinary man, a tiny figure in the tapestry of history like most of us. He has a life, family, a history. Nothing of great import. H has worries, he has hopes. He sees things happening on the larger stage that give him hope, that cause him to fear.

He has dreams, or maybe fantasies, or nightmares, about the end of things, the beginnings of things. Maybe it's all going to come crashing down. Maybe it'll be OK. Maybe both.

In the end, as in the beginning, he is rooted in his history, his family, and in his little plot of lend. He rejects, maybe, as best he can the bigness of the world and all its potential for disaster. He tends to his family, his little plot of ground, his cat.


  1. M. Carnet is a really good photographer, and there are some fine individual shots in the first two installments of this series (I'm only seeing one shot in the third on his web site -- and it's not one of the better ones).

    Not really feeling the connection / 'story' that you apparently are.

    There's a randomness in both selection and sequencing that's straight out of MA photoland.

    Either he's thought about this way too hard, or not hard enough.

    The main quality I'm getting from it is a pointless formalism. I think he's better than that, and it's not fertile ground for him, like he's chasing a trend that's alien to his gifts.

  2. As a high sensitive person, I do believe that I think too much ! ;-)

    1. Fair enough.

      Why do you call this three-part collection of photographs "un essai photographique" (translates as "photographic essay")?

      Do you think there might be a better term to describe what you are trying to do? It feels to me like a visual diary that has a personal meaning.

  3. I call it Essay because it is an essay even if I put some of my personal life in it. Looking at my own life, my own development in the world I'm living in brings to a lot of reflection, thoughts and questions. It's not just a diary showing my own life. It's much more subtle than that.

  4. The promise of a better world?

    Anyone there?
    No one.

    No one in the woods, no one in the shed, no one on the moored boat, no on in the summer chair, no one among the firs, no one in the wheelchair, no one in the sandbox, no one in the sky... Not a single face under the slightest twig, or behind any pane...
    NO ONE.
    It’s cold. -10, -20, -50°C, what do I know? Everything is frosted. And the withstanding colors have a paleness that makes you shiver. Then there’s the snow – thick coats – and the stalactites – sharp blades – and the tree trunks – forsaken bodies. And the denuded field, and the charred car, and the deserted house, and the lonely statues...
    As if the world – Good God! – could fit inside a single tear, a tear that would keep rolling forever, unaware of its tragic fate.
    But then – where does this unbelievable warmth come from? This Homeric presence? This scorching emotion? Where do they come from, nonchalantly, without beating about the bush, to stir up the organ inside of us that exhumes the buried memories, startles the stubborn desires, pounds furiously at the idea of spending another day on this Earth, of blowing out another breath into the atmosphere with all our strength? The heroic muscle of melancholia. Yes, the heart. The wild heart of hope.
    Ah, but no! There actually is “someone”. Someone? Yes, there, facing things. Someone out of the frame, who doesn’t complain, and doesn’t plant anything – neither sceneries nor trees. Someone who squares with the grace of the ruins, and the magnetic fields that still exist. Someone who highlights the bareness of this whole History, and cancels the vacuity of abovementioned hope. Frédérick Carnet. Or rather, his gaze. Hidden away in the womb of the world, gripping the very essence of life. A look that examines your pulse and probes your heart, that revives things – adjusting its softness to the breath of the world. A world that is wasted but sturdy and that, after having spat in its own face, put down all the masks, and removed the make up on the pretty things, the pudgy things, the unnecessary things we fancy then ditch – the pixie-dust revelation of self.
    Therefore, “No One” is far from nothing. “No one” is a man, a woman, a child, a tree, a cloud... a face with eyelids closed on the infinite dream, or open to the finitude of things. “No one” is you and me – all of us, in our sturdy paleness. For millennia, “no one” has been treading upon a world older than them, older than all of us combined in this frail home. “No one” is mortal and knows it – sometimes it frightens them. “No one” is so perishable they dread whatever might wither, shatter, obliterate them. But “no one” is fascinated by the ancestral wrinkles of the trees living amid these woods, by all things rotting faster than them – like the apples fallen from the sky, for instance, by the mysterious beauty of what doesn’t

    need a brain to think, a mouth to talk, but has enough aura to exist, subsist, and nourish our hopes.
    “No one” is the interface we use to communicate with the world.

    Clarisse Gorokhoff 21/04/2018

  5. Um... sorry I asked. Have a great day.

    1. Nothing wrong to ask. Nothing wrong to answer. :-) I hope I've given you answers to your questions. :-)