At a time when everything appears to be based on science, when technology is constantly giving us new limbs/extensions, the meaning once furnished by religion seems now to depend on the objective knowledge that we can glean about our surroundings. Increasingly powerful tools are refining our relationship with the real world and altering the scope of basic questions about existence. To absorb meaning, we must first grasp – and even master – different phenomena. This generalized scientific approach is often seen as rigid and inhuman, but there is a kind a poetry to be found in it, which some are able to make bloom.
While reason allows us to explain phenomena coherently and understand our surroundings, a rationalization of the world is something else altogether and almost contradictory to experiencing it: how we experience existence is very different from how we explain it.
The work of Nicolas Baier is fascinating in the diversity it portrays. He has employed a multitude of techniques, processes, and media, always seeking to give voice to his thought process and make tangible his ideas as accurately and thoroughly as possible. Form is merely a means to an end, which can only be truth. For Baier, this truth has morphed over the years, as he has accumulated experiences and gained maturity, shifting into what he sought to represent. An overview of this coherent evolution, which today embraces the most existential questions, will help to shed light on the underlying forces of Baier’s current work and thought process.
The transformation of his work can be likened to a gradual movement through space. Initially, he was interested in his immediate surroundings, in the nature of the space he occupied and knew so well. By dwelling on the commonplace, he strove to demonstrate the opposite – to show its remarkableness. In the photograph, he found strategies for seeing the world in new ways through various techniques that highlighted the accidental and emphasized the diverse nature of our space. This is clear in Noir/Nuit(fig. 1), where Baier’s desire to suggest ideas beyond the image itself were already manifesting themselves. Small lights from electronic devices are the only things visible in a photomontage dominated by darkness – a darkness that would be complete were it not for our creations.
In broadening his initial scope, Baier naturally moved toward themes and ideas of fundamental import to humanity. He widened his gaze to include concepts that the human eye cannot perceive – too immense to be seen or even completely understood. A thoughtful progression accompanies the development of his work, which seeks over time to explore more deeply the meaning of representation and perception, and the secrets to these key artistic concepts.
Like modern physics, which seeks doggedly to unify science into a single theory of everything, Nicolas Baier strove to bring everything under art’s banner in order to extract meaning. He was interested in anything that bore meaning. The questions underlying his art arose out of the deepest abysses of the human mind, the most profound enigmas that influence how we relate to existence. During these early experiments with photography, exploring his inner landscape, manipulating images that make up the world around us, he began to focus on symbols, on processes, and above all on quenching his increasingly acute thirst for knowledge. One might describe this phase of his development as metaphysical: he was tackling the meaning of the entire world, of humanity itself.
The value of the research that has become intrinsic to his work is fully realized today, as he increasingly explores various modes of understanding related to different fields of knowledge. Now that we have become creators of the true meaning of our existence – no longer bound by an absolute truth given to us from outside – we are nevertheless limited to exploring avenues that begin from/within ourselves and extend outward. By setting off on our quest “outside,” we set off into our world, our cosmos, our reality. We set off into a void where the only answers that reach us come through our perceptions, sensations, and experiences.
These are the only clues we are allowed. By taking this path we accumulate knowledge. And even if this knowledge is broad and increases over time – until it becomes inaccessible, so much does its finitude appear infinite – we never truly find an answer. We remain powerless, left to fend for ourselves in a reality whose limits and very substance we do not understand. The lucid being in the cosmos is thus forced to accept the unthinkable, the unacceptable: the impossibility of understanding and, ultimately, of explaining existence, one’s own existence, and the universe itself. But we keep searching, and we take comfort in our constructions of the world. There is a sacralization inherent to Baier’s work manifested not only through the physical magnification of scientific images and concepts but also through the incarnation of ideas and themes that were once the realm of the sacred. In a secular age, when it may be difficult to find meaning, art draws upon a variety of sources, no longer addressing religion in quite the same way even as it takes up the same eternal questions. Baier seeks now to derive a spirituality and poetry from science, which he then incorporates into his work. He might be described as a committed artist. Committed to taking back the right to represent the unrepresentable.
Recent years have been significant in the development of Nicolas Baier’s oeuvre, not only with respect to the works themselves but also to their organizing principles. While his works emerge out of a wide variety of notions and questions, using an equally diverse range of technologies, they probably all fall into the category of “the quest for truth.”
This quest is incarnated in a trilogy of installations: three offices, each portraying the locus of a distinct intellectual pursuit. This trio is/will be made up of the workspaces of the artist, the astrophysicist, and the philosopher. Each process will comprise works related specifically to the activity being portrayed.
The first stems from a process that revisits the history of art, playing with its form and exploring its possibilities and limits of representation: a perfect copy of Baier’s own desk, recreated in chrome inside a glass cube (fig. 2). Here, the term “reflection” takes on its fullest meaning, its multiple definitions symbolized by resonances of the reflective material. Reflection as thinking – the beginning of all understanding, and the beginning of the artistic process. The mirror as vanity – the self-examination and self-thought that allows artists to move, relocate, and remove themselves from what they look at. The material also affects viewers, urging them to undertake the same process of reflection and self-reflection represented by the workspace. Indeed, the use of reflective material has always had a central purpose in Baier’s work: to force viewers to see themselves in it, to position and relate themselves to what is being represented.
From the second office emerges the path of science, where truth and objectivity come together. There is no room for the observer in this quest to understand reality, so it falls to the artist to restore the observers’ position in the universe that they are a part of and that is a part of them. Mind and matter meet in incorporating the scientific quest into aesthetic compositions. An actual astrophysicist’s office was virtually recreated and then shattered (fig. 3). The dozens of resulting fragments were then carefully 3D printed and set into the space to form an anamorphosis – in other words, an intact view of the astrophysicist’s office can only be seen from a single vantage point. Covered in paint enriched with the dust of a meteorite, the pieces are immobilized in space and time, allowing the viewer to take a moment to reflect on the multiple perspectives from which one may view the understanding produced by science. This installation reveals a workspace in which rigorous, objective knowledge is developed, knowledge that is appended to the existential questions that escape it. The idea of unity, a palpable aspiration in scientific fields, slips through the hands of specialists, who see their research subdivided by the impossibility of explaining everything.
Lastly, the philosopher’s office examines the conglomeration of techniques used to seek truth. This ultimate path of exploring knowledge is, thus, a consideration of everything to be found on the wide road that flows from human existence. It incorporates both all that nature bestows on us and everything that comes from existing. Once again, a real philosopher’s office was modelled before being deformed and turned upside down (fig. 4). Form is called into question, as are the various truths considered, refuted, confirmed, and reworked. This office will be made from white marble, a medium that refers directly back to Antiquity, the era where this universal quest for “ultimate truth” was first born and which drives us still.
Though as yet incomplete, this massive installation project is nevertheless integral to Baier’s oeuvre, since he values works that are still in the idea stage as highly as those that have been realized. For is it not through thought that these works become reality? Is it not also through thought that they are interpreted and given their primordial reality in the mind? In Nicolas Baier’s work, there truly is a concomitance of mind and world.
REVIEW OF PAST EXHIBITIONS
After examining his surroundings so intently, Baier naturally came to also look at himself and dwell on his own thoughts. To consider one’s ideas as ideas is to look at knowledge and ask whence it comes, how it is constructed, and how it accumulates. This is reflected tangibly in Nicolas Baier’s relationship to the purpose of photography, which evolved significantly, especially in Paréidolies, in which he increasingly saw it as a purpose unto itself. The attraction of photography was no longer simply the subject it portrayed but in itself as a thing. This reversal – which relegates the image to the background and focuses on a more conceptual investigation of presentation, what is presented – went hand in hand with a shift in priorities from plastic form to ideas. Indeed, in this same body of work is Météorite, which in hindsight seems to prophesize Baier’s future interests: the cut surface of a meteorite – photographed thousands of times with a microscope, shot by shot, section by section, then stitched together – becomes the subject of the work (fig. 5). This freeze-frame on the meteorite is like a revelation: matter from space catapults the artist himself into the universe. The work was a turning point between his period of research anchored in the world around us and his search for that which escapes us. A meteorite from the infinity of space lands on a planet inhabited by beings who, after a certain period of evolution and several thousand years of writing, take themselves to be the creators of their world. If Nicolas Baier was to then observe and examine human knowledge, he must address the entire universe. But in his search for both knowledge and knowledge of himself, he could only see himself. The myriad of mirrors supporting his work now makes more sense: reflection is everywhere. Related to the artist’s office described previously is the series entitled Vanitas, Baier’s most numerous group of works, which resemble dozens of mismatching mirrors that have been scanned then united into incongruous groups to form huge, mysterious mosaics (fig. 6). At first glance, it is not clear that they are mirrors because the scanning process has removed the mirrors’ reflective properties and the resulting sense of depth. Here, mirror becomes subject, forcing us to finally see it as something to be observed rather than something used to observe or to observe oneself.
After taking an interest in how the objects around us are represented and how to maximize this representation through art, Baier continued his exploration of human perception, this time using the limits of scientific imaging. In his collection Transmission, Baier works like a scientist, using the most advanced technologies available to create rather complex pieces that feature labour intensive production processes, illustrating Baier’s zeal and obsessive work ethic.
The pieces in this collection can be grouped into separate spheres that nevertheless all fall into the category of positioning humanity in space and time. Baier explored the visual nature of the sciences, leading us to multiple avenues of interpretation linked to the human experience.
One group of works looked at experiments made by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on its most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. Baier took images captured in the collider and reproduced them as paintings. These “mass productions” (Productions de masse, fig. 7), in both colour and monochrome, were based on digital images produced in the many detectors inside the collider that capture traces of the trajectories of ions and protons. His use of paint as a medium for these specific works, a medium related to representation and spreading of faith, also evokes the association of these nuclear experiments with a metaphysical and religious objective: the search for the God particle. This first collection of works focused precisely on exploring the infinitesimal.
For Baier, this scientific imagery proved to be a failure for two reasons. First, he felt that these types of representation, which belong to the objective sciences, do not reach novice observers, given their level of abstraction. Hence, physics, in seeking to understand humanity in its environment and the laws that govern it, fails indubitably. Reproducing these failures as paintings, transforming them into art, was merely a reiteration of this failure, a demonstration of the science’s inability to sufficiently include humans into its vision of space. This second reason, the exclusion of humanity from its spatiality, only compounded the first failure of its inability to create accessible visual representations of space.
Other works about the universe’s topography – and thus the infinitely large – strove to illustrate the complex feelings that arise when trying to comprehend the universe’s infinite nature and how this immensity can be symbolized. In Schèmes(fig. 8), Baier borrowed a metaphor from French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet, who theorized that the universe is a finite space shaped like a dodecahedron. This geometric structure, each facet of which is a pentagon made of a mirror, was designed using a 3D rendering application. A virtual light source was placed in its centre, then the “entirety” (the application is limited to 500 reflections) of the many resulting reflections was captured. Viewers are thus confronted with a concrete visual representation of the universe’s topography, a phantasmagorical atlas, the map of an abstraction: the image of everything that can be seen – the entire universe. The series Dodécaèdres(fig. 9) followed up on this idea of topography, with the geometrical reconstruction of this spatial structure, but this time as seen from outside and engraved onto a mirror. The central problem of excluding humanity from the physical conception of space is exemplified in this series made of mirrors. The mirror literally inserts the observer into the work. Baier reminds us that individuals are intrinsic parts of the universe, that we are part of the cosmos, so it should therefore not be possible for us, even with science, to observe the universe from a distance. If we are presented with an image of the universe as seen from outside, we cannot but see ourselves reflected in it. The mirror nevertheless acts as an illusion, an illusion of resolution, the failure of science: the image in the mirror is not really the person observing but only a reflection of them. Erwin Schrödinger, the father of quantum mechanics and himself a philosopher, addressed this problem with great humility toward his own academic field by stating that it is absolutely impossible for humans to observe themselves within the world of science, because humans are themselves creators of that world. The self is identical to that which it creates, which prevents it from being contained within it.
The universe, absolutized by empiricism, is nevertheless meaningless without the conscious being within it. For it is from within humanity’s consciousness and cognition that emanates a theoretical interest in explaining the world around us and in developing a discourse specifically for this purpose. And the more knowledge we acquire about the universe and its endless transformations, the more we understand the concept of absolute fatality: everything will die – every being and even every thing, every star, the universe itself. A group of four pieces in this collection, SAS, Météorite 2, Réminiscence 3, and Stèleunderline this conceptualization of finality, more specifically of the passage between finite and infinite. SAS(fig. 10) is a digitization of a marble slab that harkens back to the ancient tradition of steles, portals between the lands of the dead and the living that allow communication between the deceased and their families. Yet while it symbolizes an opening and contact, the stele is a closed object: nothing can enter this door without a handle, immovable, sealed forever. Météorite 2 (fig. 11) is made from a material that has both apocalyptic and poetic connotations: star dust. The work is completely covered with a powder that Baier produced by crushing an actual meteorite. It is now of this world, part of a painting that gives people an unusually close encounter with this matter of unknown provenance. The elliptical shape, which recalls the configuration of our universe according to some interpretations, and the monochromatic use of black reinforce the notion that it represents space, an allegory of nothingness. Réminiscence 3(fig. 12) is an image generated by skillful programmers who were able to make atmospheric models at specific moments in time. Here, the moment chosen by Baier was just prior to the meteorite strike that marked the end of the Mesozoic Era and, theoretically, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. This pre-apocalyptic image, constructed entirely by an independent computer process, gives us a God’s-eye perspective, a spectator’s – or instigator’s – view of the catastrophe. The abstract notions of beginning and end are conceptualized by the immortalization of a past event of planetary significance that left traces and consequences in its wake, but no images. Baier is like an archaeologist, using the means at hand to try and recreate a specific moment in time, a moment that is difficult to imagine because it is not part of our collective memory. Réminiscence 3contributes to the transmission and accumulation of the history of passing time, the memorization of its imprints. Lastly, Stèle(fig. 13) is a desk made from black granite, an immutable, almost everlasting material. The work serves as an epitaph to our materiality, a premature fossilization of objects from our time. We might think of it as an artifact for future archaeologists to find but, given that today’s objects become obsolete so quickly, it might also be seen as relevant to modern archaeology.
In the Transmissioncollection, comparing Baier’s work with that of modern physics striving to explain the universe leads directly to a realization: people struggle to integrate themselves into their universe and be part of it. And yet are humans not the universe’s stuff of dreams, dreaming of themselves? We often think of the cosmos as some far-off, unattainable thing, but are we not also the universe? Our flesh, the air we breathe, and even our thoughts are part of it. This is a fundamental and longstanding problem that will not go away. Modern physics, in trying to unify everything under a single theory that would provide a harmonized vision of the world, cannot even integrate humanity into this whole and admits failure. When Baier gives these empirical documentations of reality form by incorporating them into the creative process, it allows the viewer to both experience this scientific consideration of things and contemplate the resulting singularity.
Naturally, after exploring the image, Nicolas Baier wanted to go even further and explore beyond it by addressing knowledge directly. His latest exhibition, Astérismes, continues the direction of his earlier work but makes more connections with his inspirations. Scientific representations now stand alongside images of thought itself, neural connections that allow knowledge to be developed. The temporality of this knowledge is also explored: paintings of caves covered with the first signs of symbols created by humans, and the infinite capacity of the servers housing the almost inconceivable scope of all human knowledge. This merging of knowledge and its representations is even more tangible in the very production of the works and the technologies they require. Not only does Baier employ knowledge and its implementations as a subject, he also employs tools that are fundamentally modern in creating his art. Production methods that make use of the latest technology, in particular 3D scanning and printing thus make Baier’s works much like science itself; he incorporates the rigour used in the so-called natural sciences into his art. With AstérismesBaier has clearly transitioned from 2D to 3D; he has left photography behind, renouncing Photoshop in favour of a 3D graphics application (Rhino). This renunciation is embodied in 7D Mark 02(fig. 14), the only work that might be considered personal. Baier purposely made a poor scan of the Canon SLR to make it seem corroded; this was then 3D printed. The imposed wear-and-tear makes the object obsolete before its time and transforms it into an artifact – which it will be before long anyway. Converting the 3D print into the immutable material of bronze only enhances the camera’s obsolescence; it is made unalterable, formally outmoded, not only in our digital age but also in Baier’s work.
Astérismesaddresses the fullness of Baier’s thought process in both what it deals with and the number of works it presents. There is a human timescale and a universal timescale, and the two necessarily intermix. Baier confronts us with this quest to grasp our own conception of the world as well as the idea of finiteness. The works, which are themselves artifacts of our time, make us wonder what will remain of all our knowledge, our progress, our passage through time. Death is an inherent part of any thought process about the universe, just as it is the unavoidable fate of all existence. Without the certainty of the finite, this reflection could not have such a scope. Death also forces us to question the manner in which we will leave this existence and the notion of legacy. Nor can the concept of passing time be dissociated from Baier’s work, who sometimes seems like an archaeologist, closely examining the traces we have left – or will leave – behind and our understanding of past ruins, which change depending on which sedimentary layer one examines. The painting Percée(fig. 15), based on a photograph Baier took in caves containing the first signs of prehistoric human artistic expression, directly addresses this notion of the remnant and the idea of accumulating knowledge over time. To achieve an acceptable copy of the photograph, the image was broken down into multiple layers of colours that were then affixed one by one onto canvas, a process taking hundreds of hours. This process evokes the archaeologist’s task, who investigates layer after layer of the past in order to reconstruct it. Baier took care to not include the caves’ distinctive drawings in his photographs, focusing instead on the light entering the caves, which aptly replaces the symbols that are the first signs of manifest intelligence among our ancestors, just as the earliest writings mark the start of our history. This cave contains not only an introduction to humanity, it also echoes Plato’s cave allegory about the difficulty of achieving and conveying knowledge.
The time-related aspect of knowledge is fundamental to changes in how it is conveyed and stored, moving from oral to writing, from books to digital. And knowledge’s multiple forms include that which is found directly in nature or that which involves passage through the human intellect. The neural connections represented in Synapses 03(fig. 16) form a root system branching out in all directions, widening the scope of our knowledge. These connections are crisscrossed with the straight lines of a computer network that expresses the transfer of knowledge from neurons to digital. These connections are sunk into a thick blackness, becoming less numerous as they descend, evoking the decline of our knowledge when it comes to deep questions about existence, when we try to break through the strongest walls of what we do not know. Even the rationalization of science applied to human thought cannot take us further.
Today, wondering about the traces we will leave behind and that will define us go hand in hand with understanding the future impact of the technologies we develop. In a sense, Monolithe(fig. 17) speaks to these remnants that can be degraded, no longer necessarily coming directly from humans, but from our creations. A 3D printing error led to the production of a small two-centimetre object whose structure was intended to be right angled but that ended up with an organic appearance. Enlarged and magnified, what was once considered a tiny error takes on gigantic proportions, literally towering over the viewer. Thus amplified, we see that this technological imperfection become monolith has a root-like architecture and a structure that gives it stability. It is as if these returning forms and systematic connections will allow the sculpture to keep growing indefinitely. Nothing is more human than a machine. Nature, by definition, is all inclusive. In a gesture that Baier views as poetic, machine has become organic once again, as if born of biogenetic programming. The work thus conveys the notion of cycle and whole; its initial automatic generation was cause for concern but its production was in the end a replication of Nature, which will never cede its title as the ultimate originator of all its creations. Indeed,“how can creation become independent and separate from its creator?”
This exploration of humanity’s perception of the universe and of how we represent it and understand it underlies all of the works in Astérismes. This foray into the visual nature of the sciences pushes us toward multiple avenues of interpretation that are based on human experience. In tackling the concepts of the immeasurably large, the immeasurably small, and the knowledge accumulated by humanity, Baier considers the invisible. The work Hublot(fig. 18) continues his exploration of the immense, though its circle-shape is reminiscent of his previous tondos representing infinitesimally small particle collisions. Hublotcontains the 100,000 stars with known positions; it thus represents almost the entirety of our topographical knowledge of the visible universe surrounding our planet, a knowledge that is ever expanding and thus rendering this document increasingly out of date as time goes by. Indeed, thousands more stars could have been added to it just a few days prior to the opening of this exhibition, meaning Hublot was obsolete even before its first showing. The work demonstrates, in a single glance, all the stars we can document from Earth. The rising density of stars toward the centre – our vantage point – represents our ignorance, which increases exponentially with the distance between us and what we seek to know. This piece formed the backdrop for several others, in particular Constellations (noire)(fig. 19) and Constellations (or)(fig. 20). Starting from the scientific document of Hublot, Baier moved from star to star, inventing constellations like the first humans (though he did so randomly, using a set of programmed commands). These bas reliefs represent, from another point of view, the random connections that were made between the stars in the sky. Rendering the heavenly vault in three dimensions makes the barely conceivable void that surrounds us more tangible. This materialization was done by way of a fragmentation that emerged from the connections, which recalls the unremitting reduction of the universe into any number of atoms and various sub-components that we cling to when it comes time to represent our world. These two works actually form a pair, fitting together to form the entire visible universe. Placed between the two pieces, viewers are thus trapped in the centre of their macrocosm. The void, coloured black in the first work, is made material thanks to the constellations, which illuminate it and on which a lustrous layer is applied on the second work. The use of carbon and gold is not by chance. Carbon is the element on which almost all life is based. Gold has forever been associated with the Sun. Speaking of which, it is fascinating and in some sense reassuring to know that our ancestors intuitively deified a star and worshiped it as a fundamental element of creation, something confirmed by science thousands of years later.
Wandering through works that represent the invisible immerses us in the abstraction intrinsic to any attempt at understanding the world. Grasping reality is a difficult – if not impossible – task, and attempting to do so only seems to transform real into surreal. The ever narrower line between the real and the virtual is conveyed in Data(fig. 21). What appears to be a photograph of a stream bordered by trees is but a feat of digital skill, an illusion so perfect that we perceive it as reality. A team of graphic designers created an entire virtual forest with a stream running through it, a colossal undertaking from which only this image was taken. Baier thus gives us access only to this cursory glimpse at a whole world built from scratch: a path showing us the extent of what we do not know. The forest and what we are given to see is like knowledge: we can sense its inconceivable breadth, but we can merely gaze upon the way to get there.
Astérismes, an exhibition of sculptures made from 3D printing and of computer generated images, seems a long way from art that claims to explore the far reaches of the human soul. It seems to dwell more on systematic representations of science than on the expression of consciousness and how it relates to human existence. But if we look closely, we realize that each work bears witness to the mind underlying the matter. It is a re-centering of the individual in the universe. It is about recovering a sense of self, about seeking out one’s own conception of the universe, and Baier confronts us with this quest.
An asterism is a human-generated pattern of stars – stars that stand out for their brightness but that have no other connection from a scientific standpoint. It is a completely subjective celestial arrangement that helps give structure to the sky above us. These patterns are often the basis for constellations, references that humans developed without the more exact knowledge we have today. In this exhibition, some asterisms are applied to the world to make sense of it, others stretch between works, which complement one another and form numerous connections in terms of their subjects and production methods to form a much broader canvas. Above all, they are the constellations of our thoughts, which appear in these emerging ideas and which are shared by every human existence. More precisely, these works allow us to create our own asterisms in the universe of concepts that surround us all.
Scientific reality must be regarded as poetic reality in this exhibition, and it is the viewer’s task to reclaim their place in a representation of the universe that cannot be constructed and thought about objectively.
Nicolas Baier has employed almost every artistic technique and process over his career. By giving his creativity such a free and diverse outlet, he has achieved a maturity that has led to a high point in his artistic development, in terms of both thought process and practice.
His themes now tend toward broad fields of knowledge such as philosophy and science (physics in particular), knowledge itself, and humanity’s ability to classify it and access it. This fundamental approach aims to simplify things; in other words, to make them more accessible to the observer. Such a broad base translates into an equally broad corpus of works, revealing a magnitude commensurate to the subjects he broaches and being literally beyond us in the same way those subjects are beyond us.
This quest to reveal what humans know, want to know, and think they know has resulted in works that seek to express reality – a concept that is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to approach – through an authenticity that is essential to revealing concepts as significant and determinant for human existence as these and that thus apply directly to the viewer.
While striving for simplicity and intelligibility, Baier’s work nevertheless focuses on broad and complex themes, so understanding it involves not only relating it to the arts but also placing it in a theoretical framework that revisits the concepts Baier employs and that isimpelled by similar objectives: understanding the human world; trying to explain it; and exposing it to an audience that is part of it, that forms it, and that also seeks such discernment. He plays with matter in the same way scientists do but goes even further, allowing himself to represent with a brushstroke what the most eminent researchers are unable to define with all their theories. Indeed, this is what Matière noire(fig. 22) represents. Dark matter cannot be observed; its nature remains a mystery and its existence can only be inferred by the electromagnetic effects it causes. It is presented here as a whirlpool of paint formed by the movement of Baier’s brush. This dark matter made tangible through paint creates a relationship in which art takes on the role of representing the unseeable, of allowing our senses to perceive that which can ordinarily only be imagined.
One could liken Nicolas Baier to a scientist trying to build theories based on experimental observations and analysis in order to shed light on the nature of reality. For reality is not only that which surrounds us; it is also the words and – in the case of the arts, the shapes – that we attach to it. What we observe and what appears to us we also describe with words, representations, symbols, and ideas that also make up part of this reality. In a sense, Baier’s works are a mediation between the universe outside of us and its perception. British philosopher J. L. Austin raised the too often underappreciated value of using ordinary language to describe our perceptions. Every element of language has its history, meanings, and richness. We do not need neologisms to accurately describe our world: the words we have can say everything if used properly and with an awareness of their impact. Employing established language does not, however, prevent progress of thought or the introduction of new concepts; on the contrary, it encourages them and makes them clearer.
Baier also seems to work this way. His artistic approach is steeped in the idea of common sense– particularly with the pieces exhibited here – which constantly brings us back to an awareness of the reality we share and that we strive to explain, analyze, and assimilate. His works are expressions of the definitions and concepts that we have devised to describe our world. Like Austin, he grants the pre-established wealth. He grants the fecundity of the terms and symbols we have in common, and he uses them. Beyond the complex representations born of science gone wrong, there is simply the expression of a representation of human existence.
Each in its own way, every work in this exhibition forces viewers into an awareness of their immediate position and how this is echoed in their perception of the representations, construction, and visualization of space in general. In other words, they are confronted with where they stand in relation to the work and what it represents.
“Ultimately, in fully objectifying what it accomplishes, scientific thought excludes joy and sorrow, ethics and aesthetics, and even colour and timbre from representation as perceptible qualities. The paradox of knowledge, whose value resides in a process of self-revelation and self-knowledge, is that as it progresses, it tends to remove the very “self” toward which it strives.”
These works, which embrace fundamental questions about existence, are revealing not just to the artist who created them but also to the “general self” shared, to some extent, by every thinking being in the universe. Words are replaced by works of art, which are better expressions of the inexpressible notion of how thinking beings conceive of the universe and the accompanying inner discourse that gives it meaning.
Austin, John L. Sense and Sensibilia. London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Bitbol, Michel. “L’Élision”. Preface to L’esprit et la matière, by Erwin Schrödinger. Paris: Éditions Le Seuil, 1990.