ArtSpring is expanding its community outreach this month by hosting a rare visual arts show in addition to its usual performance calendar. The choice of photographer Birgit Freybe Bateman for the exercise is a good one, with more than 50 of her large photo prints transforming the gallery into museum-worthy space.
The works in the Mindful Vision show were in fact sourced from a previous exhibition by the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg in 2010. Although viewers may recognize one or two images, the ArtSpring show is the first time this collection has been seen together in Canada. It is an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in one artist’s creative oeuvre, and a fine one at that.
Bateman has a distinct way of seeing the world and translating that vision into her expression. Her work is characterized by strong formal aspects and composition. Patterning and repetition is often a focus, whether that is found in nature or in man-made environments and objects. She often takes a close-up view, excluding any distraction from what her eye singles out as of interest.
Although she has the benefit of being able to travel around the world and with no doubt very good equipment, Bateman’s eye is such that she could probably produce equally remarkable images from her closer surroundings using just a phone. The trick is seeing the world in a particular way.
Her love of pattern can therefore just as easily focus on a vertical grouping of braided ships’ hawsers as on a set of columns at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Line and texture can be revealed in crushed grasses made ragged with hoarfrost or in a flowing bunch of bright yellow extension cords seen backstage.
Silver Bowl with Poppies is a good example of what Bateman can accomplish just by looking. The view is so close to be almost abstracted; the reflective silver bowl at the centre captures the light from windows across the room. Feathery poppy blossoms drape over the top of the frame like billows of red silk, with a fringe of fallen petals at the base completing the framing.
Nature scenes propose a different perspective from the usual, as well. In Curve of Cranes, taken in Rajasthan, India, Bateman completely fills the frame with a portion of a large flock of cranes feeding on the ground. The view emphasizes the patterns created by curved bodies, necks and wings, celebrating this natural phenomena as much as the particular species. Cruising Crabeater Seals, taken in Antarctica, contrasts gleaming white seal bodies heading on a horizontal line left with the dark water’s rippled surface. The water is nearly black with bright highlights of reflected light on each mini wavelet. As much texture is delineated as if sculpted in kiln-fired glass.
Photographs that include humans are less common; when they appear they often reveal a sense of gentle humour, as if to say we are small beings in the bigger picture, after all. Figures are secondary to their environment while still carrying a sense of individual character, such as a group of school children in Bhutan. Looking like tiny monks with their close-cropped heads and dark maroon uniforms, the children are dwarfed by a giant tree that spreads its branches across the entire background, and by the distant view of steep mountain sides dissected by rice terraces glimpsed behind that.
Yellow Plastic Chairs is a lovely composition that contrasts the ancient stone arches and columns of St. Marco’s Square in Venice with scores of empty chairs and tables lined up and waiting for the tourist day to begin. The scene is lifted beyond its formal aspects with inclusion of an older waiter in white jacket and bowtie captured at the edge of the seating.
Bateman’s formalism does not reduce the human to just another part of the pattern, however. There is a good deal of warmth in her images as well. To Market – Girl with Chickens has many interesting components. First of all there’s the cheeky-looking little girls at the heart of the image, who is looking up at the camera. The brightly dressed girl and her cargo of red chickens — being towed in an open trailer behind a pushed bicycle — provide colourful contrast to the surrounding scene, a tight shot of dark bicycle frames over a dusty flagstone street. There is also pleasing formal contrast between the bicycles’ rigid angles and large wheels, and the softer organic forms they surround.
Mindful Vision continues at ArtSpring daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to Sunday, March 8. Bateman will give an artist’s talk this Friday, Feb. 28 from 12 noon to 1p.m.