Where Are the Definite Poetic Sites?

Nicolas Baier, 2006

(Translated by Jennifer Westlake)

Where Are the Definite Poetic Sites? Definite sites? How is it that everything is full of life, constantly, from the deepest innards to the outermost surface? Aren’t our observations of this life a sort of music we make with our eyes, a projection of self into the other?

I make images as a way of holding my arms out to others, of reaching and helping others while I help myself. I imagine the spectator as a fog of emotional possibility, where laughter and tears meld, where seduction is no longer necessary because one is already in contact with the “real” through the act of observation, within a maze of mixed inner visions, with a gaze that looks from the heart.

“Everyone should paint, or take photographs, or make films, videos, music, write.” I’ve renounced that claim for a more “practical,” probable solution: everyone should look, listen, absorb and filter established codes, reinvent meaning. Every object, every landscape, every view offered us, every instant as it files past, and every human sentiment, all have the potential for pain and happiness, and between these two states lies every gradation of colour. This is the most comforting thought I know.

Are my photos paintings?

It’s funny, but they are, in a way. Painting, for me, is a way of observing things, a collection of scattered or grouped associations that, through inventive personal imagery, draws one closer to a reality that is increasingly hidden: the imaginary, dreams, transformed memories.

People often forget that, first and foremost, I make photos. Since beginning my practice, I’ve tried—and this is the common thread that unites my work—to photograph the unphotographable and to capture the invisible. It’s a quest to do the impossible, the creation of new worlds. In this way, I share the same objectives, the same utopian ambitions of many early photographers, forerunners of the black box, researchers, the 19th century inventors of the early stages of photography whose primary objective, from the first appearance of these new images that attempted to faithfully represent reality, was to see that which is invisible to he naked eye. Since the exhibition Liquidation Niko & Cie, this has been the driving force of each of my pieces. I have played with specific strategies, taken various detours to arrive at each image. I have tried to create breaks, delicate splices, hoping to construct distinct dialogues between disparate items that I then join together, in “picture time.”

Here are a few examples:

Radiography : the network of blood vessels in Capillaires is actually part of a tree, with its branches shot from below. I wanted a medical photo, something stethoscopic. This was the quest for Cinémascope, Planète.

Telescope, microscope : the cosmos, constellations and the galaxies of Cinémascope are nothing more than a mass of digitized dust, just as our bodies are in effect nothing more than a mass of stardust, or just as the textured underside of a kitchen table was the raw material for Planète.

The macro : the scans of Petits riens are magnified to the point that the usual reference points of photography and the known world are lost in a visual cocktail. The image has been “captured” in another manner: digitization transforms reality into illustration—a floating, abundant, incomprehensible jumble.

The snapshot : or the art of not living in the present, of being absent in the present. Sujet bas is the only

real snap-shot in my work. The dummy foot within the frame is furtive, it seeks out silence, it wants to be forgotten, it walks on eggshells, on a carpet, in its sock. It wants to be forgotten, to disappear. Its absent body—whose gesture, pose, we sense—is erased.

Night-vision : absinthe is an attempt to get at the heart of a night of drinking. A still life, a vanitas of alcohol. The omnipresent pixels appear under a green glow (similar to the TV images of the wars in the Gulf and in Iraq). It all presents itself as a devastated city, crowded with the corpses of cans of beer, bottles and cigarettes under a wash of absinthe green.

The supernatural : from the earliest days of photography, attempts have been made to capture paranormal phenomena on film: extraterrestrials, sea monsters, spiritual mediums, yetis, moth men, gnomes, and imps. With Janvier, I wanted to expand on these attempts, adding the notion of solitude, and contrasts between the small (the interior, the body) and the large (the exterior, the world, the universe).

Martin H., Martin D., Emmanuel G., Marie-Claude B. & Yan G., Michel S.-M., François L., Alain P., Patrick C., Frédérick B., Samuel L., Jacinthe P., etc : digital photography permits the creation of unusual composites. That which was not a part of my intentions appears as a double delusion when my work is brought face to face with the public. The first delusion is linked with the effect described above: the subtle digital manipulations—taken from anachronistic compositions and points of view—are made possible through erasure. Meeting the public, hearing their comments, criticisms, is to realize how much a second, unpremeditated deception has come about. Everyone—intellectuals, art lovers, informed visitor-viewers or not—takes it for granted that my work is autobiographical in essence. This audience seems to spontaneously project themselves into my interiors, my studios, taking these iconic cues as though they were mine. On the contrary, most of the time these source-images originate from many other horizons. These horizons are, all the same, reduced to my private sphere: that of work, fortuitous meetings or friendly visits, happy coincidences. As such, one could describe my images as a kind of auto-fiction made up of appropriations, movement, construction, and splices. It is not the objective of this text to unmask everything, so we’ll leave it at that.