For the exhibition at Division Gallery, Fall 2013

Nicolas Baier

translated from french by Gabrielle T. Baillargeon and Dionne McAffee

The thematic thread of this exhibition is once again the vanity of things and life. I can also give this title, Vanitas, to almost all my pieces. This time, I’m particularly interested in the storage and transmission of knowledge. We often feel that knowledge, unlike objects, is deeper, less superficial. But when we leave life, we leave everything behind, without differentiation.

Vanité (bureau) / Vanitas (office)

The sculpture offers a three-dimensional still frame on our almost immaterial era: a contemporary work office with its distinctive elements : a table, a chair, a computer, a scanner, etc… The glass cubicle accentuates the impression of anonymity. This sealed world exposes a space-mirror both completely closed on itself and completely open to the world. The mirror, of course, is that of self-discovery, reflexive identity and reflections of the world, but it is also a great engine to distort reality and access "the other side". This allegorical place analyzes our media and our production and the tools for storage and transmission of information. It is a space of intellectual, technical or artistic work to represent them all. In a way, this work wants to expose what thinking means.

Here’s an excerpt from an email sent by a friend, Jennifer Alleyn:

« It’s terribly final.
Almost an image of the past.
Of a civilization that was.
Millennium dust.Which allows itself to be inducted, poured like a jewel in its case.For the eyes that will survive.It’s disturbing to see all these people orbit an empty cage, like visiting a zoo of human-kind after extinction. Looking at themselves in this representation of their absence. »

Vanité / Vanitas 04

This mosaic shows scans of old mirrors.The digital scan of each mirror is made, glass against glass, to capture as close and unmediated as possible the concrete effects of the passage of time, the marking of the years of usage, the scratches, cracks, holes and gaps. This compositional technique captures the essence of the device, the reflection of the reflection, the representation of a representation. The result provides an intimate self-portrait of a machine who exhibits memorabilia of the world and examines the traces of time. Isn’t this exactly what a gallery, a museum or the art itself does?

The mirror has accompanied art history since forever. For my work, which combines photography and painting since its infancy, it is a fantastic object of reflection (so to say), and an unexpected catalyst. Would it not be photography that somehow replaced the mirror as a tool for transformation and conversion? Both instruments transform the tangible, palpable, three-dimensional reality in plan, pictures and moving reflections. They come to change the reality in "idea", the existence and representation in print. The pictorial, appearing more-real-than-real (as in the legend of the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius – where the artist’s compete for the most realistic depiction of grapes and curtains), offers a space for objectification while facilitating the analytical look.The mirror is perception: it’s a large playground! Our eyes work like the sonars of our conscience. Objects, people, any area or any scheme on which our eyes rest, all of this is probably just a reflection of ourselves. Rorschach tests work just like that –as mirrors. We can only clearly see what we know…

Réminiscence 2

Reminiscence is a high speculative work. In fact, it is a failure. Helped by professional programmers and powerful software, I wanted to go back in time millions of years ago and "shoot" the gas and dust mixture that was there, under the control of the thermal and gravitational sun, at the beginning of the formation of the earth. People quickly made me realize that with the technology we have and the current state of our knowledge, this would be impossible.

The cloud formations are the product of a 3D model based on climatological data. The work imagines the gas formation at the early ages of our planet. It shows a basic magma. It celebrates the creation of origins. It evokes the strengths and beauties of nature. It illuminates the mysteries of the world stretching away before us. The question of the origin remains fundamentally insoluble since it assumes that the starting point is made from an incomprehensible “already there”.By looking at it closer, as far as one can see : an overview of stratocumulus, cumulus, probably few cumulonimbus, and maybe some cirrostratus combinations. An unlikely mix ...

The result is intended as an "artist’s vision", such as the often futuristic ones we can easily see when we google this expression. Scientists and engineers often use these renderings to illustrate their proposals.

If there is a formal fabric or aesthetic will behind this project, it is to let the process take its course. The image, the proposal is the result of this long process. We simply placed the camera (the point of view in the software) at a bird’s eye view in a height and angle that would guarantee us a top view of a cloudy horizon. In a word, there is no construction of pictorial composition. What there is to see is nothing more than the completion of the scheme.

But that is not important.In the history of landscape painting, the clouds are often painted to animate the heaven, a pictorial space that would be monotonous without them. We could say that it is the connective tissue in this area of the composition. It’s the useful stopgap that energizes it all, a topic that vaguely suggests the climate state of the situation, the reality of heaven. In religious painting, the cloud is regularly the object that refers to the divine, to the messenger of the gods. It is the subject that settles the dramatic frame of the scene. In modern and abstract art, it may suggest infinity.

To make it the main subject or the only topic of a painting or a photograph interested me. I must admit that the vaporous and almost dreamlike dimension, with the “God’s point of view” that this piece offers, both seduces and annoys me.Because of my Catholic upbringing, I was used to the separation of body and mind, just like the distinction between nature and thought that is often made in philosophy. Nature being what it is, independent from thinking, independent from thought. I must admit having a problem with this proposal.

What we call "Nature", we should call it "There is". "Nature", "Universe", "Reality", synonyms that include everything that exists. Thought is an intrinsic part of the universe. The universe is inside my body, I breathe it, I digest it. But it is also my gut and my lungs, my skin, my eyes, my brain and everything that makes me. Just like my thoughts, my body is part of the universe, and no matter how tiny I am compared to its vastness, I am bound to Nature as Khazneh of the ancient city of Petra is inherent to the rock mass that composes its cliff.

In short, we are the flesh that the universe uses to think, the matter that the nature uses to dream.

A passage from the Quebecois philosopher Pierre Bertrand: "We think of the universe as being far, but it is also close to us. If we can’t see it because it is too far, we also can’t see it because it is too close to our eyes, it has become too familiar. In fact, the familiar and the alien are intertwined. We integrate things and we open ourselves to them. The unknown is near and far. The universe appears cold, desert and dead to us in contrast with the Earth full of life. But all life is mortal. Death is radically different and yet we go into it as into sleep. Similarly, we think we know the people we meet, but part of them escapes us as it escapes themselves. Life is just as enigmatic as death. Our science and our techniques give us a feeling of control, but it is partial. No matter how great, wise and powerful we are, we are small, ignorant and helpless before death. Even if the "end of the world" takes the form of a cosmic Apocalypse, it may as well appear as the death of such and such individual. Every time a living thing dies, the world ends."

Science tells us that everything could just be mathematics. Indeed, when it comes to the smallest of the small, ​​everything could be made of the same material. It is the juxtaposition, the amalgam, the layout of the building that would make each element what it is. One is almost tempted to believe in a plan, a premise. Nature, the Universe, Reality, the “There is” (should we add to this list of synonyms the term "consciousness" as an entity that would include everything beyond what we know?) would seem tiny in comparison. Our consciousness does what it can with what it has. The physical laws that govern us on this planet and our chemical composition are likely to impede a clear understanding of "everything."

Interestingly, regardless of the 3D rendering software that was used, the depiction of a cloud is never an object or a mass. This configuration is the sum of the juxtaposition of a variable number of points.If I return to the image, the intention was simple: while speculating, to go back in time far enough to illustrate this gas and particles mixture that was at the beginning of the formation of our planet and the solar system to make a fictitious portrait our common origins; Nature and "we" merged together without gravity. This image is a vain and candid attempt to rally these two ideas in a single inseparable fact and mix them into an inseparable mix as well.

The title, Reminiscence, refers to a mental construct, a memory that has not been etched in the mind of a human being.

In fact, I should go further and photograph a hydrogen and helium fusion since it is the known basis of all that made ​​us and of everything around us.

Ultimately, this image contributes in its way to question the meaning we give to the idea of ​​living. What we call living. This gas mixture that made us, this mixture of all the elements which have structured the world and what followed, isn’t it also alive?

Is a star, which is the basis of all that is known, not fundamentally alive?How does the ultimate source of living could not itself be a part of it?Could the definition of life not also include a virus?Include language? Are we not the animal carrying the language? As if it was a virus? Olivier Dyens speaks about the language and civilization as "replicators" that use humans as a mere vehicle (see "Birthing the inhuman"). Like a parasite/host relationship where both parts learn to live in synergy.We believe we have created the language, but ultimately it is not the language that has created us? Has it not appeared in humans like a virus settles in a population? Is it not what characterizes and differentiates us, in essence, what makes us what we are?

No doubt that it would be best to also review our understanding of art. Art can’t show the real, it does not indicate it and it probably wouldn’t suggest it: but maybe it creates it.Production de masse / Mass Production

These paintings reproduce the traces left by particle collisions, in fact collisions of ions or protons. They come from experiments conducted in particle accelerators. These state-of-the-art experiments try to understand how the universe began. By studying collisions, physicists refine their descriptions of the laws of nature. Cosmology is a laboratory for the infinitely small. But the opposite is also true. Scientists use collisions between particles or nuclei of atoms to understand better the states of matter and their influence on the expansion of the universe in its earliest moments. The research focuses on the Higgs boson, the missing link of particle physics. This particle is the cornerstone of the fundamental structure of matter. This boson gives mass to all the other components of our universe. Without this “God particle”, the basic elements of matter would never encounter and would not combine. Without it, there would be nothing, no universe, no life, no human, no conscience. The physics and metaphysics come together because the same shared issues jostle: Where do we come from? What are the origins of the world, human beings, knowledge, doubts as certainties? Why is there something rather than nothing?When I saw the graphs produced by the CERN teams, I immediately thought they had to be painted.It's like an act of faith to science and state-of-the-art technology, but also to all those people who build theories, each more striking than the other, on the principles of the development of the universe and the mass, gravity, life, etc...It is not only because the Higgs boson is nicknamed the God particle, but when we paint these figures, the act of painting (as robotic as it may be in this case) acquires a sacred and liturgical state.

Engrammes (Neurones) / Engrams (neurons)

In the brain, information flows as electrical messages, nerve impulses transmitted from neuron to neuron. This work presents the reconstruction of a complex network of neural connections. This montage of images required months of microscope takes. The work recalls the complexity of the living reticular system compared to the rigidity of computer servers. Neuronal plasticity allows the brain to change as learning occurs. This malleability allows it to create, undo and reorganize neural networks. It also explains the creative superiority of organic over mechanics.

Engrammes (serveur) / Engrams (server)

The sculpture reproduces a database, a data container for the collection, storage and use of information. This central part of computing devices is reproduced in finely crafted metal. The orthogonal black structure is built on a foundation of white marble. Technically, the files contained in a database of this size could contain all of the books ever produced by humanity in all languages ​​since the invention of writing –we could as well say an essential part of human knowledge. The work offers a self-portrait of the digital world, ours. It plays on the contrast between the dematerialized life online, connected to a superpresent and the sustainability of the cast in stone and metal tribute. It questions access to the knowledge of reality and the very complex transmission of knowledge, the role of memory in our individual and collective lives, to the socio-political consequences of the establishment of databases on us. It is therefore a mirror room, with eternity in stone, the world of ideas and the memory of the world hidden in databases. Ultimately, this is another way to define the allegory of Plato's cave, the first and essential reflection on the relationship between the real and the virtual, the truths and illusions, the sensible world and the dreams one.

Practically speaking, since a white floor would be the base of my sculpture (to contrast and highlight the black steel rods on the ground) and that the nature of the work evoked the world of ideas, the choice of white marble as a metaphor of ancient Greece and the beginnings of philosophy.

Sas / Airlock

The picture reproduces a black marble plaque. It evokes the bas-reliefs carved in ancient Egypt. In this ancient tradition, the stele-door or false-door stele plays an essential role in the dialogue between the sacred and the profane. The stele materializes the way, the air lock between the world of the living and the dead. Through this stylized opening, the deceased must be able to communicate with his loved ones who may, for example, serve him offerings. At the same time, this closed door, without any handle or opening, seems sealed forever. The black marble responds in contrast to the white marble of the Engramme piece. Both works evoke the same idea of ​​the cemetery of sunken designs and dead ideas –the same point of the unstoppable condemnation of people and things. Everything is vanity.

Vanité (dodécadère) / Vanitas (dodecahedron)

According to recent research by French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet, the universe is finite and looks like a dodecahedron. Its complex structure consists of twelve regular pentagons. The model even predicts that the diameter of the universe is only 83% of the observable universe, the rest being the shimmering illusion of a larger universe. The etched mirrors reproduce the modeling of this dodecahedron. They form a kind of self-portrait of the universe. Vanité offers scans of these mirrors. The result shows the representation of a pure representation, of an image reflecting itself, a reflection of a reflection.IlluminationOnly stars.This image is the product of a work combining multiple shots of a starry sky. I wanted to cheat the audience and make them able to recognize any earthly heaven constellation. Thus the reality is distorted, and everyone can see and watch the sky with new eyes. As in many of my new pieces, the composition also reproduces the all-over painting practice with its self-similar parts looking like the whole. The work summarizes time and space, but it also evokes the endless depths of the universe that surround, exceed, caused and will survive us. We're only stardust.

What does the universe look like? If we could produce a complete picture of all that is and can be shown, what would it look like?Using 3D software, I "made" one of Luminet’s ideas (a French astrophysicist).In his lectures, he often tried to imagine the universe as a gigantic dodecahedron. You’d have to think about it as made of reflecting mirror.If we put a light source inside, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of reflections will illuminate the walls of the dodecahedron.I simply built this dodecahedron using mirrors, put a light source in it, and I inserted a camera in (also virtual).Rendering took 800 hours of work at my computer.But what is interesting, among other things, is that you can then almost see what you would think black holes look like.The composition gives shape to space while stopping it in time. It offers a phantasmagoric atlas of the universe with its giant formations and its more or less dense concentrations, which nevertheless end up offering a vision of a relatively uniform space.

Soupe / Soup

It is an attempt to put the human being through this primordial “soup”, the scenario that attempts to explain the origins of life.This soup may have existed or not, but the idea that it did, exists.Because it is a human construct, I wanted to have a physical presence and I chose the silhouette of a head to illustrate it.I briefly thought of mixing earth and water and assure the presence of carbon, hydrogen, potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, etc. It probably would have needed to be electrified, and perhaps I would have witnessed a few amino acids appearing...

But the idea of ​​the water seemed more valid as metaphorical and symbolic outstanding liquid.