Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Cris Baczek’s Development

A myriad of wooden-framed boxes hangs on the walls, seemingly plain and dark. When you take a step toward a particular cluster, each box lights up individually, illuminating a bright blue negative image of wild flowers and plants. These creative pieces are the work of Utah Museum of Fine Arts administrator, Christine Baczek, and can be found at Salt Lake’s Nox Contemporary gallery. As an artist working outside the museum setting, Baczek remains tied to it, and through her work tries to negotiate these two sides of her art-centered life. The exhibition is called Development, suggesting her development as an artist, her development as a person, and of course, referring to her chosen medium. In this exhibit the artist not only develops her film, her cyanotypes, and her body of art, but also shows her own development and the process of creation and appropriation.

The Utah Wild Plant Series, my favorite part of the exhibition, is the first thing you see when you walk through the gallery door. It consists of cyanotypes on glass, placed in motion-sensored light boxes that illuminate as the viewer steps in front of the pieces, suggesting the necessity of the viewer to the art itself.|2| It is as if the art does not exist or develop until the viewer comes closer to see it. Baczek expresses a strong connection with nature, having taken these plants and flowers from her meditations outdoors and literally brought them into her work.

Cyanotyping as an art is a very natural and organic process. The artist doesn’t take a photograph through a lens and print it on paper, she uses her hands to mix light-sensitive chemicals, to coat the glass, to arrange her subject matter (in this case flowers, leaves, plants), and to expose it to light, which prints a negative of the objects on the finished product. The plants have a physical presence in their absence, having actually been a part of the process, the “Development.” This process is not perfect, there is much left to chance, to time, to the sun, etc., but it is her process.

As a window to the natural world, these cyanotypes also exhibit the artist’s connection with nature. To Baczek, viewing nature through a camera lens and developing those images at a later time distances one from nature, but as we view her cyanotypes, we see a closer association with the delicate details of the earth. A light behind each print illuminates the images and connects light (fundamental to the art of photography) and nature — not a three-dimensional imitation of nature, as a painting might be, but a physical process, her art shows the imprint of nature on her work and her life. What seems to be revealed through these cyanotypes is not only Baczek’s connection with the beauty of nature, but also her life as a museum administrator, organizing and categorizing works of art. A museum is neatly arranged into various categories: geographical, chronological, stylistic qualities, etc. Here, the plants seem to be separated into species like Anna Atkins’s cyanotypes in Photographs of British Algae, or like a scientifically ordered collection. Though she attempts to bring her experience in nature to the viewer she cannot help but organize her experience into categories, like she would in the museum setting.

As we move further into the gallery, a new medium dominates the exhibit. “24 Minutes of Sunset” is a perfect visual transition, showing photographic prints mostly of blue hue. This sunset is more abstract than the viewer might expect from the title. The image as a whole is of a tree, its branches and leaves against a twilight sky. Each piece of the whole is a blown up proof sheet that continues to stress Baczek’s symbiotic relationship and connection with nature – she does not take one small image of an entire scene, but rather uses multiple frames, each a fragmented piece that helps fill the wall with a scene that envelops the viewer. Once again, Baczek does not hide her artistic process, but reveals it by allowing the edges of the film negatives to show. The viewer is left with a larger than life roll of film and can see each frame in consecutive order, left to right and top to bottom. Baczek includes each individual shot in her process as well as the entire scene simultaneously, giving significance and weight to the fragment and the artwork rather than the scene.

The work directly across from this piece shares the same title but the image could not be more different. Both scenes are outside and are taken at sunset, but this set of images shows a landscape of clouds, sky, mountains and city lights on the horizon. While the viewer recognizes the scene as being less abstract than the branches of the first “24 Minutes of Sunset,” these images are all turned on their side to create an abstract scene of strong vertical lines created by the edges of the film and by what would have been a very horizontal horizon. Baczek, in both sunsets, has forced us to look at nature differently than we have before. We can see the beauty of a sunset through the cold and wintery branches of the first and the wonderful lines and color in the second. The mountains and city lights line the center while the clouds of each image bleed outward to the left and right. The enormous size of the proofs, as well as the clouds’ migration, creates a feeling that the sky and nature spread outward all around, encompassing the viewer. In both her cyanotypes and her Sunsets, Baczek forces the viewer to see nature differently.

Baczek’s third body of work in this exhibit is not one that engages or comments on nature, but rather one of appropriation and process, the artist having utilized old negatives from the film archive of the Utah Museum of Fine Art. This series of gelatin silver prints is called (Un)known Objects, and refers to the forlorn and forgotten subjects of archived photos. Just as the artist picks flowers and plants from nature, she likewise plucks old photographs from archives, and once again we are forced to look at these objects in a new light. These objects were photographs of antique chairs, paintings, woodblock prints, etc, perhaps keeping an inventory of the UMFA, but now they are seen differently as they have been forgotten, altered visually, framed, and then exhibited in Nox Contemporary. There is emotion attached to old and forgotten images and Baczek enhances this mood by abstracting the photographs somewhat with what looks like accidental brown spills or brush strokes. The original works have acquired new meaning as Baczek has brought them from their archival grave back to life.

In Development, Christine Baczek has diminished the space between artwork and viewer by allowing her process and medium to play a prominent role – the coagulated chemicals of the cyanotypes, the edges of the rolls of film. It is an exhibit of photographic mediums, showing the artist’s process and perspective (as demonstrated also in her titles Development and Proof), a chance to look at the world in a different way and experience it from the artist’s point of view.

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