Nico in the Land of Wonder

for the exhibition Paréidolias, 2008/2010

David Liss, director of the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art

In his earliest photographic work Nicolas Baier engaged digital technologies to construct fragmented, cubist-like images that explored the multi-faceted spatial dynamics of his immediate surroundings – his apartment and his studio. Through this “shuffling” of his environment he was able to provoke new readings and new understandings of realities that may have been taken for granted or overlooked. Not only did this disruption of the familiar re-order the physical characteristics of his environment, and his relationship to it, it also opened cracks and fissures within the psychic dimension embedded in his understanding of presumed realities. He slipped through the looking-glass of ordinary consciousness into paranormal dimensions of existence that lay just beyond the range of rational grasp, into a land of infinite possibility and wonder.

His latest series of work drives his investigations deeper into even less certain, more adventurous territories of psychic cognition and are collected under the title Pareidolias, referring to the perceptual phenomenon of apprehending images within the shapes and forms of other images or objects. In the 1920s Hermann Rorschach developed the famous psychological assessment technique of the inkblot test, and long before that Leonardo Da Vinci claimed to draw inspiration by identifying shapes in flowing water and cloud formations. While science persistently refuses to assign value to the unquantifiable, and has never paid much heed to physical and psychic reciprocity, the mysterious realms of the imagination may hold more significance in this regard than any of us suspect. Nicholas Baier wants you to believe. Enter, if you will, Nico’s land of illusory wonder, where uncertainty is the only certainty and notions of truth are revealed to be subjective fictions.

Within the context of the pareidolia phenomenon, Baier’s works function as catalytic stimuli, enticing viewers with aesthetically seductive surfaces and decentralized, non-iconic imagery to engage our perceptual faculties in perpetual search for potential meaning. In this case, however, the quest is the meaning and the imagery laden with vast potential. Initially the viewer may feel cast adrift and confounded; an alien in a strange, though somehow not entirely unfamiliar land. Baier, of course, selects his images very specifically and his pictures are precisely constructed. In the Paêsines, (2008), distinct, almost lunar-like landscapes are apparent, though the images are derived from direct scans with no other intervention by the artist. La formation des nuages and Le chemin de l’eau, (both 2008), are made by enlarging scans of water-stained paper. At first glance and upon closer inspection, this seems to be obvious and perhaps nothing more. During prolonged viewing and from a slight distance, however, a doubled-line drawing of a landscape with clouds may emerge; the ghost of a David Milne watercolour! Look again. It’s simply a picture of water-stained paper. Now you see it, now you don’t! Indeed, ghosts and magic are present in the work as they are at play in the locus of the imagination where perception is formed; in the realm of the spirit.

On occasion, Baier has created works whose content and structure allude to spiritual or religious experience, (for example, Ogive, 2007), but his of notions of spirituality are not confined within the strictures, literalism and artifice of religious doctrine. He is more deeply inspired by the innate human potential for profound and fleeting glimpses of revelatory insight into the nature of existence; the potential for transformation to take place when prompted and challenged or when the plane of ordinary consciousness is ruptured. His pictures are reflections of the corridors of consciousness. They are portals; doors of perception opening onto brave new worlds that lay beyond the frontiers of where few of us dare to venture – inner space: the final frontier. Baier’s potent masterwork Vanitas, (2007/08), is most viscerally effective in leading us on the journey. Astonishing in scale and complexity, this mural-scale piece is a literal and metaphorical hall-of-mirrors comprised of more than 30 image components, each made by directly scanning the surfaces of antique mirrors. The range of viewer experience spans the macrocosmic to the infinitesimal. We can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed and engulfed by the whole or become lost in obsessive scrutiny of the minutest details; so compelling and nearly impossible as it is to resist complete engagement. Time spent will easily pass unnoticed. Immersed and spellbound, we become suspended in the act of the looking and searching. Scratches, cracks, holes, flaking and various other markings on the images of the mirrors shift and morph taking the form of water, crusted earth, landscapes, celestial skies, planets, stars or distant galaxies. Ordinary sense of scale and space dissolve as we slip through the portal beyond the spacetime continuum into the fourth dimension. Metaphysical experience becomes manifest as the elasticity of the imagination is tested and provoked.

Mirrors are the source matter for Vanitas but are also a metaphorical touchstone for the Pareidolias series. Of course these are images of mirrors – not actual mirrors – and the surfaces of these pictures curiously appear to simultaneously absorb and reflect light. Implicit in the metaphor is the internalization of thought but the exterior of the self, the face and head (the identity and locus of the imagination) of the viewer and their surroundings are reflected in the surface of the images; multi-faceted aspects of our being resonate. Awakened to a state of heightened awareness, something deeper, something more profound and sublime than material reality is revealed. How to navigate the field and what to make of it all is left to the individual, as it only can be. Each of us is the wizard behind the curtain holding the power to forge our own way.

With this most recent series of works Nicholais Baier expands his journey further beyond the corners and crevices of his domestic environment, telescoping into nebulous reaches of the layered consciousness of the spirit – a place that is nevertheless reflected in our most immediate surroundings. His seemingly mundane images are charged with all of the fascination, enchantment and wonder that the known universe holds, or at least as much as we care to believe.