Born in the Digital: The Universe According to Nicolas Baier
Humans have been wondering about the nature and shape of the universe long before the birth of the sciences. Early drawings of the earth show it as a flat disc covered by a semi-circular dome containing the sun, moon, and stars. More modern theories represent the universe as a donut, a saddle, or a dodecahedron – a three dimensional shape with twelve flat faces. Nicolas Baier is interested in contemporary scientific theories of the universe and the digital technologies that allow us to map it. Using specialized software, and in consultation with an astrophysicist at CERN, Baier tries to do the impossible: to capture the universe in an artwork.
“Asterisms,” the title of his exhibition at Division Gallery in Toronto, references the random patterns created by connecting the most prominent stars in our celestial sphere, similar in ways to the constellations used in Astrology. In Constellations Or 1 (2017), Baier turns these computer-generated, interstellar connections into a digitally carved relief of geometric planes. The gilded surface of the work can be said to represent the whole observable universe.
Baier’s work is preoccupied with hard to measure phenomena like cosmic rays, fossil radiation, dark matter, and neurological pathways. Yet of equal interest for him is the expansion of digital technologies to capture these processes and the mass amounts of data required in order to better understand our world. Jungle (2017) depicts a long hallway lined with rows upon rows of servers vanishing into the distance. Carved with a CNC router, the surface of grey peaks and valleys looks haphazard from up close but fixes into a clear image from further away. It is a haunting reality where the digital seems as infinite as the universe itself.
Baier makes use of computer software that creates models of the earth’s atmosphere at different times. The software is able to go back through the data of time to construct hypothetical models of what the clouds in the sky looked like millions of years ago. In Réminiscence 5 (2016), fiery, scarlet-red clouds fade into yellow and amber, representing what the sky would have looked like 65 million years ago on the eve of the extinction of the dinosaurs. Like many of the works in this exhibition, this apocalyptic cloudscape reveals how advanced our technologies are, but also their fundamental limitations. Nothing could ever capture the magnitude or intensity of an asteroid hitting the earth, but our representations, both in science and art, continue to try.