Prophets of Information, Profits of Figuration: Bertram Brooker/IAIN BAXTER&
Canadian art has an addiction to landscape. Recent critical projects exploring what–or more accurately who–has been excluded from Romantic constructions of landscape as pristine and unpopulated have merely reinforced landscape as the common denominator of competing narratives of national identity. Yet it is notable that such debates typically exclude discussion of the media-saturated landscape of contemporary urban and “wired” experience altogether. A convenient label for this excluded third term in the perennial wilderness controversy of Canadian art might be the “Information Landscape,” coined by veteran conceptual artist IAIN BAXTER& (aka Iain Baxter).
In the work of BAXTER&, wilderness and cityscape alike are represented as data circulating within a common media ecology. The artist’s inclusive approach to the media landscape is summed up in the mantra of the Vancouver-based N E Thing Co Ltd: “Art is All Over.” NETCO was a conceptual project and real-world business venture founded by BAXTER& in 1966 and jointly administered with his then wife, Ingrid Baxter, until 1978. To many commentators in the late 1960s, NETCO’s “products”–for instance, the Company’s trademark inflatable plastic landscapes, which transformed the heroic panoramas of the Group of Seven into consumer baubles–literally had no place within the venerable tradition of Canadian landscape. This displacement was compounded by the Company’s early traffic between Vancouver, New York and other foreign art markets. The peculiar sense of dislocation associated with the international orientation of BAXTER& has been interpreted by NETCO scholar William Wood as the by-product of an art practice situated between cultural periphery and art world centre. Alternatively, I would like to propose that the work of the conceptual artist is properly situated within a counter-tradition of Canadian landscape that places information technologies front and centre.
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Top images: (Left) IAIN BAXTER&, *Wearable (Iain Baxter Collection), 1968, vinyl, dimensions unknown. Courtesy the artist. (Right) Bertram Brooker, I Believe: A Defense of Futurism, circa 1910, watercolour on paper. Collection of Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, ON.*
Lower images: (Top) IAIN BAXTER&, *Wearable (Iain Baxter Collection), 1968, vinyl, dimensions unknown. Courtesy the artist. (Bottom) Bertram Brooker, Machine World, 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 45”.*