Places in between

    The work on display in the exhibit Passing Through 1958-1983 represents a slice from the life of a peripatetic artist who finds transient beauty in places between here and there. From these intermediary sites, Canadian artist Iain Baxter captures an experiential account of his travels, taken in a time when road trips were becoming a hallmark of youthful beat culture.

    The work on display represents a previously unseen body of work that builds on the critical view Baxter has taken regarding landscape, visual perception, and technology versus humans and nature.

    The photographs were selected by Baxter from slide archives along with the assistance of curator James Patten from the University of Windsor, Ontario and printed especially for this touring exhibition. “We selected works that correspond to the themes of mobility, shifting subjectivity and the origins of social globalization,” Patten said.

    A provocative catalogue is being published in conjunction with this exhibition and will be available in another week.

    Baxter began with studies in forestry and zoology during his early college years, and traveled to Japan in 1961 to study art. He then immersed himself in Zen Buddhism.

    Zen continues to influence Baxter’s work. “It taught me the importance of living in the moment, of the interconnectedness of all things and of being aware of your own and the world’s present state of being,” he said.

    In these early years Baxter developed an artistic vision rooted in everyday forms such as telephone wires and the sides of buildings. The work in this exhibit was shot freehand with a Nikon 35mm SLR, in the manner of many conceptual artists that eschewed the conventions of fine art photography.

    Presenting Duratran light boxes in photographic exhibitions is an intriguing format that has become synonymous with the “Vancouver School” of conceptual photography that also includes Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace.

    Baxter was first intrigued by the way light emanates through slides while working at the slide library at Washington State University, when he realized it gave the image an inner life. For this exhibition, some of the photos in which light was a crucial element in the composition were printed as light boxes and the others were all printed as digital Chromira prints.

    A video made by Baxter in 1992 displays the overarching philosophical insight that instigated the work from 1958 to 1983. This work, entitled One Canada Video, records every inch of the Trans-Canada Highway, from St. John’s Newfoundland to Long Beach on Vancouver Island. This strain of Baxter’s oeuvre continually addresses the role of the automobile in shaping our perceptions of the landscape that surrounds us. In North America, driving has become ubiquitous and is characterized chiefly by the fact that on the road the only constant is change. American photographers William Eggleston and Joel Sternfeld pointed their lenses towards the unpredictable countryside to make color photographs that developed the medium into a fine art.

    The poignant photograph Wheels (1968), with its two tires lined up just slightly off center, captivates a starkly turquoise trailer. The composition expresses a meditative wisdom in its simple form, with the tires isolated from their function.

    The lines of the corrugated trailer’s fa퀨͌_ade create a subtle horizon line that soothes the eye in a peaceful manner. In the midst of typical road signs, highways and traffic, Baxter unveils a profound geometric composition.

In another work, Sign (1969), Baxter selects an empty billboard in the midst of a distressed rural site as a symbol of the disingenuousness of mainstream culture. This photo leaves the viewer to ponder what the meaning of signs are in a deeper sense, moving beyond their face value toward a philosophical significance.

    Recently, Baxter added an “&” to his last name as a representation of life and what comes after. Baxter& is a maximalist who incorporates anything he possibly can into his work. Early in his career he and his wife Ingrid founded the N.E. Thing Co., a neo-Fluxus group that staged interactive performances and expanded the realm of what was considered “art.”

    The group’s nickname, NETCO, became an icon for the contemporary sentiment that art was more than just making objects. It took art into the realm of the mundane, quirky and humorous. Baxter& continues to innovate in his later years with statements such as, “Masturbating life makes art��,” a phrase he coined and copyrighted.

    A comprehensive exhibit such as this one is hard to find anywhere on the continent.

    There is tremendous breadth in the work and genuine engagement with many of the most pertinent issues of the late 20th century. This comprehensive show will be traveling to venues in Ontario, Victoria and Halifax in the next two years, so keep your eyes northward!


Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery

University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Through Dec. 10, 2006