Human beings have an uncanny ability to seek out images where none exist. That’s why we can while away hours finding shapes in the clouds and can all see a man in the moon. It’s why a grilled-cheese sandwich bearing the face of the Virgin Mary can fetch big money on eBay. It’s this notion that informs this exhibition of recent work by the Montreal-based artist Nicolas Baier. The show’s title, “Paréidolies,” refers to the phenomenon of “ascribing an image, a meaning or a name to phenomena despite the absence of any true correlation,” pushing the thesis that unintentional representational images lurk within all of the works. Baier, who started his career as a painter in the early 1990s, now makes most of his work through skilful scanning, reproducing flat objects in uncanny detail as ink-jet prints. The resulting work forces us to reconsider mundane surfaces—from mirrors and rock faces to slabs of cement— encouraging us to see them in a new way.
Two large works offer up expanses of condensation-stained pinkish-beige paper that formerly covered a shop window. They are both refreshingly simple and deliciously intriguing. In The Formation of Clouds (2008), the water stains seem to be a landscape, puffy clouds reflected in rippling water. This is not due to technical trickery (apart from Baier’s process of methodically scanning small areas and then knitting together those images to create a seamless work): we see the landscape because it’s so clearly there—like, say, the face of Jesus Christ burned into a tortilla. In the companion piece, The Path of Water (2008), the found paper becomes an elegant abstract work, with hidden imagery lurking in the flattened folds and crumples.
Baier’s irregularly shaped rock cuts (Paesines 01 and 02) become arid landscapes once enlarged on the gallery walls, with vast swaths of grey cloud and jagged brown hills emerging from their surfaces. Two photographs reveal accidental maps of Canada—one (somewhat humorously) in the peeling wall paint of a disused prison, another (less successfully) in a golfcourse marsh. In Vanitas 01 (2007–08), the show’s most impressive work, more than two dozen mirrors appear in a dense configuration. While their reflective surfaces read as black when scanned, dirt and blemishes create inadvertent images—from ghostlike smears to dusty crucifixes. Eerily, the only thing we aren’t supposed to see here is ourselves.