Iain Baxter

Carmen Lamanna Gallery

Artwork addressing environmental issues may have found its antidote in the wall constructions of Iain Baxter. Calling upon a variety of domestic and industrial objects that range from kitchen knives and silk plants to steel and glass, these works galvanize many of the problems when art and politics meet. They serve as a remedy to the monolithic rhetoric of government officials and well-intentioned marchers who choose to speak with a collective voice.

Relying on the blackest humor, these eight works traverse the globe, acknowledging environmental infractions. All the major tragedies are represented here: the destruction of rain forests, the breakdown of the ozone layer, the extinction of animals, the fallout from military weaponry. At the center of this myriad of issues is the Canadian landscape, painted to the scale of a wallpaper mural, in Landscape, 1990. Looking out over an acid-neutral lake and autumn hills, the setting is idyllic only to a point. Placed into the canvas is a television set, which runs continuously with standard network programming that includes hockey games, music videos, and televangelists, with seating in front. Viewers are attracted to this painting because of the television and hence look at it longer and more closely.

Throughout, Baxter makes exaggerated statements. There is a distastefulness related to mass-produced materials, which is pervasive in each work. For CO2 Landscape (Dedicated to Chico Mendes), 1990, he created a veritable slab of South American rain forest, incorporating silk and plastic plants, two fake fireplaces, and a jumbo thermometer. In the lower corner, concealed in foliage, is a small photograph of Mendes, the murdered activist/rubber tapper, with his jaw wired closed. Rather than making an overt statement on Mendes, Baxter focuses on the broken chain of nature, supplanting the natural with the artificial.

In Trophies, 1990, Baxter has approximated the location of wildlife in the world by using stuffed animals, while in Crucifixion of Ozone, 1990, he has affixed spray tops and glass eyes onto a field of thick acrylic. Baxter’s constructions are not just well-meaning one-liners; he has taken the broader perspective of questioning the artist’s role in society. By positioning consumer and mass-produced objects alongside environmental dilemmas, he makes his own work complicit with multinational corporations that produce plastics and other by-product materials.

Baxter has never been politically correct. In the mid ’60s, he fabricated a four-room apartment entirely bagged in plastic as a monument to consumer society. Since then he has continued to use factory-produced materials, co-opted for their visual appearance. Underlying this practice is a mistrust of the packaged response. True to form, these newest works remain roughly executed and pragmatic. The fact that he has chosen to keep the production values of his works down is in itself a relief from the slickness of consumer-motivated artmaking. Yet there is no evidence here of sanctimonious intention. Baxter does not suggest that he holds the answers, but rather, he positions himself at the point where art and politics meet head on and examines the tack he believes should be taken.

Linda Genereux