What motivates the impetus to reform? What combination of historical forces crystallize for a brief period, effecting a change in the epistemic regime? In Michael Baers’ current work, history is a rebus, and the larger motives behind the urge to reform take the form of that exasperating piece that would complete the puzzle if only it could be located.
In “Silence After Noise”, which consists of two series of ink-wash drawings, linked by a photograph, Baers attempts to trace the myriad routes by which ideas were disseminated during two different epochs.
The first series depicts figures connected to the events that precipitated the Thirty Years War. This was a period in which hopes for emancipation from the political and philosophical chains of Catholic orthodoxy were instantiated by the spread throughout Europe of tracts and treatise advocating the universal reform of society—what the historian Frances Yates termed the “Rosicrucian Enlightenment”. These aspirations were ultimately undone by the movement’s own misplaced optimism, which persisted in the face of its failure to garner political support from Protestant rulers.
The second series depict figures from the history of the dissemination and subsequent suppression of LSD. Although LSD is now popularly perceived of as a recreational drug, its application both for therapeutic and military usage was the subject of intense research from the early 1950s to mid-1960s. The motivations of the scientists, therapists, and writers involved with this therapeutic research resemble in many ways those of the people at the heart of the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. The point of similarity between these two periods, is how the aspirations for general reform became opposed to and were subsequently engulfed by the larger ideological/geo-political conflicts, that they sought to ameliorate. So that in retrospect, the utopian hopes for reform and advancement appear to history as naive, misbegotten, and foolish.
The two series of drawings are linked by a large photograph in which Baers montaged the inkjet prints, that he uses to produce his drawings with source material. This was taken from two projects executed earlier in 2008—a “notebook” project for the Norwegian magazine Replikk, and a collaboration with the editors of Fucking Good Art, Robert Hamelijnck and Nienke Terpsma (who had invited him to Switzerland to produce a work on LSD). This source material, for reasons that are now obscure, he taped to a wall in his studio and then neglected to remove.
The narrative of the latter project, discernible amidst the sea of historical portraiture and photographs which now surround it, serves as a hinge linking the personal and political, situating the artist’s own personal and professional history, within these larger historical narratives with which he has been preoccupied. A key provides information on how the different individuals depicted are connected to the larger histories in which they appear—presenting the viewer with tools to fit the pieces together.
However, making “sense” of these different narratives, is a task that Baers leaves to the viewer.