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Conversation with


These humans and their unique vision of life inspire us.
And we WANT to know more.

Photo credit: Roger Lemoyne

Nicolas Baier lives and works in Montreal. Regarded as one of the most important contemporary artists in the country, his works have been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions, and he has created more than thirty public artworks. For over 30 years, his work has been inspired by science and grounded in objective data, to which he adds a philosophical dimension. Featured in the WANT Les Essentiels space of our Mile-End boutique in Montreal, his video artwork, Procession, is captivating in many respects. Discussion.

Your approach is inspired by science, which may seem to be at odds with art at first glance. What led you to merge the two?
I disagree with the formulation of the question. Too often, our conception is skewed. Science (and scientists) are much less rigid than we think, and artists are certainly a bit more so. Art and science have helped us to transcend ourselves. Both practices share the idea of observing and understanding what surrounds us, what composes us, from the smallest scale to the vastest and most distant. Science has liberated us from the narratives of religions. Even though it is far from always being used wisely, I see it as salvational. It has allowed us to remove our blinders and thus broaden our horizons, to strive for knowledge and to see rather than believe. Art has been a tool, of propaganda among others, of these religions. But it has managed, here and there, to break free and flourish by using all possible fields of real-life experience. We are trying to understand what constitutes the adventure of living. Consciousness invented these two practices to help us with that.

Procession (2019)

With Procession, what message did you want to convey?
I'm not fond of the expression "message." I am not a standard-bearer for anything. I believe I merely direct the gaze or suggest a perspective. With Procession, a video constructed through parallel editing, what is shown is simple: on one side, a corridor of servers; on the other, the forest. Between them, time, evolution...The idea was to place side by side two entities that converge. Technology, in my opinion, is inherently part of nature (like everything else), including the tools created by humans. I don't see a contradiction, rather a continuity. I'm not talking about a design but an implacable reality. I sometimes wonder: from the first millisecond of the big bang, were the concepts of life and intelligence already encoded in the molecules? Was technology also included? The complexity of a server farm, with its CPUs, GPUs, motherboards, hard drives, cables that connect them, software that inhabits them, and the electricity that powers them, pales in comparison to the branching of trees, roots, fungi, fauna, water, air, light, photons, soil, worms, insects, microbes, etc. I use the forest as a symbol. It's my favorite actor these days. Before we inhabited caves, it was probably our living space. It seems that we perceive shades of green the best. Was it to better survive in the canopy? So, I join hand in hand these two entities: our original habitat, and the one through which we will now traverse our lives. Computers will never leave us. Will they replace everything? And what about our free will? I find it astonishing to use the term "dehumanized" to describe this server room full of computers, equipped with its ventilation system and its grated sectioned floors, when, in fact, it is all too human.

How does Procession (2019) position itself in relation to the rest of your work? What is your perspective on the evolution of your themes and the treatment of your works if we go back to the year 2000, for example, and the Montreal Biennale?
The common thread is the idea of time, which is omnipresent in my body of work. In Procession, I like to think that we are moving in slow tracking shots forward in the same place, the same space, and that these two places are only separated by time. You mentioned the work I exhibited at the Montreal Biennale in 2000. There too, there was the idea of time. I photographed a room from the same point of view over what could have seemed like several weeks. By mixing the shots, we obtained a snapshot of a place in time. I like to think that I refine my language over the years, and I also simplify it. I try increasingly to be clearer, both conceptually and formally.

05-06-07 (2000), at La Biennale de Montréal

Over the past two decades, technological advancements have taken a giant leap. Between nature and technology, where do you place the human?
I place the human at the heart of these upheavals. He’s the instigator, the link. I see him as a tool-bearing progenitor. Human is the creator, the beneficiary, and the victim. Soon, I believe that these tools will no longer need us to regenerate, and the boundary of what will then define a living being will be blurred. Already, some software generate their own updates. Some applications have self-procreated thousands of times. Isn't "replicating" for many what signifies life?

What moves you in life?
Our finiteness, and the courage we display in the face of the inevitable. The thought that the universe itself and everything it contains are condemned. All that is constructed, thought, articulated, imagined, defined, and drawn will fade away. Every trace of it will disappear. And yet, we move forward. It reminds me of Tibetan monks and their rangolis, sand mandalas that they erase as soon as they finish them.

Can you tell me about your current projects?
I am working on the same concepts but trying to broaden my perspective. I want to use more and more cutting-edge technologies (to never be too far from our enemy :)) I prefer not to say more...

What can we wish for you in 2024?
To be able to show the fruit of my work to as many people as possible, and good health.

Point de fuite (2022), Vases communicants (2023)

Follow @nicolas.baier on Instagram to know more about his work and exhibitions. This collaboration was made possible with the help of Erika Del Vecchio and Blouin Division.