Nicolas Baier: Pareidolias at The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon. The term is used to describe how the human mind sees familiar objects in abstract forms, such as animals in clouds or the man in the moon. It is also an intriguing title for the recent work of Montreal artist Nicolas Baier, whose subjects include antique mirrors, the surface of polished stone, and water-stained paper. Presented by Pratt & Whitney Canada, Nicolas Baier: Pareidolias is on view in the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP) galleries of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) through April 25, 2010.

Nicolas Baier, “Paesine 1”, 2008. Courtesy: Galerie René Blouin, Montreal, and Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Toronto. ©Nicolas Baier

Nicolas Baier: Pareidolias was organized through the joint efforts of the artist and Bernard Lamarche, curator of contemporary art at the Musée régional de Rimouski, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, and circulated by the CMCP. Following the Ottawa venue, the exhibition will travel to the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in Quebec City where it will be on view from 17 June to 23 August 2010.

“Since the early 1990s, Nicolas Baier has been challenging photographic convention with his elaborately constructed digital imagery. His work is poetic, thought-provoking and playful,” said Martha Hanna, Director, CMCP. “This exhibition invites us into a world of illusions, where uncertainty is the only certainty, and where seductive surfaces and abstract imagery engage us in a search for possible meaning.”

“Pratt & Whitney Canada is proud to present Nicolas Baier’s inspiring digital imagery,” said John Wyzykowski, Vice President, Mississauga & Turbofan Programs, Pratt & Whitney Canada. “His original work is innovative and we continue to support programs such as this one that enhance the cultural life of our communities all while expressing P&WC’s own values of creativity, sustainability and advanced technologies.”

Vanitas (2007-08) – The centrepiece of the exhibition
To Nicolas Baier, art almost always acts as a mirror. “Objects, people, the smallest surface on which our eyes come to rest—everything, no doubt, is but a reflection of who we are,” explains the artist in the exhibition catalogue. “We see only what we know.”

Mirrors are the source matter for Baier’s monumental work, Vanitas (2007-2008) from the collection of the CMCP. Astonishing in scale and complexity, this mural-like piece is comprised of 40 images, each made by directly scanning the surfaces of antique mirrors, which thereby lose their ability to reflect. Our likeness cannot be seen in the scratches, cracks, holes and other markings of these damaged surfaces, but it is practically impossible not to continue to seek for whatever may constitute an image, be it a hand here, a bear’s head there, the surface of a pond or distant galaxies. In Vanitas, what is visible refutes permanence. There is always more to see; the gaze ceaselessly invests these marks with a meaning they do not intrinsically have.

More exhibition highlights
Other works in the exhibition elaborate on the theme of pareidolias. The artist’s Paesines (2008) prints suggest that the infinitely small may appear to trace shapes and forces of the infinitely grand. To produce these works, Baier scanned the polished surface of small Tuscan stones, called pietra paesina in Italy or “landscape stone.” He then enlarged the images to suggest colourful painted landscapes.

Baier saw an interesting network of lines that were left as a result of humid temperatures on the surface of paper used to cover a storefront window. By scanning and enlarging this paper to create The Formation of Clouds (2008) and The Path of Water (2008), Baier provides a record of nature creating its own image and plays with the idea of condensation as the creator of clouds and eventual rain.

Meet the artist
Friday February 12, at 2 pm – Visit the exhibition with Nicolas Baier. (An earlier presentation will take place in French on the same day at 12:15 pm.) Included with Gallery admission.

A fully-illustrated colour catalogue produced by the Musée regional de Rimouski with texts by the exhibition curator Bernard Lamarche, as well as David Liss, Artistic Director and Curator, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and by the artist Nicolas Baier is available in the NGC’s Bookstore or online at for $30.

About the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
The collection, which comprises over 17,700 photographic works and 144,000 negatives and transparencies, has been developed through purchases, assignments and donations of the best documentary and art photography by Canadian photographers. Almost all exhibitions organized by the CMCP and displayed in Ottawa are then made available for travel to venues across the country and abroad through the National Gallery of Canada’s On Tour programme.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art in the world. In addition, it has pre-eminent collections of Indigenous, Western and European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, American and Asian Art as well as drawings and photography. Created in 1880, it is among the oldest of Canada’s national, cultural institutions. As part of its mandate to make Canadian art accessible across the country, the NGC has one of the largest touring exhibition programs in the world.