As poet-novelist Heidi Greco aptly puts it, Four Seasons at the Fen, the current show of photography by former Semiahmoo Arts president Barbara Cooper, offers “layers upon layers upon layers” of inspiration and expression.
First and foremost in the exhibit – which runs until March 20 at South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre’s Turnbull Gallery – there are the vivid, often moving digital images taken by well-known local arts advocate Cooper.
Inspired by the scenic glories of the Serpentine Fen – and Vivaldi’s ground-breaking 18th century musical composition The Four Seasons – the detail-rich, canvas-printed scenes of the landscape and wild birds in their natural habitat are informed by her sensitivity for composition, colour, texture and visual harmony.
Taken over the space of one calendar year, the photographs – along with boards of text selected by Cooper and designed by Chris Thornley – evoke the changing moods of the fen (technically and administratively the far less romantic-sounding South Surrey Wildlife Management Area) as it transitions through spring, summer, fall and winter.
Further layers to the experience are provided by interactive educational, cultural and family events Semiahmoo Arts is offering in conjunction with the show, starting this Saturday (March 2) at 9 a.m. with a free guided walk of the fen at led by Liz Walker of the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists.
Later the same day (at 1:30 p.m.) the Turnbull Gallery will be the venue for a writing workshop led by Greco, Writing The Rhythms of Nature.
A free talk, The Birds, The Fen and The Pacific Flyway, with naturalist author Anne Murray and conservationist Matt Christensen, will be held Tuesday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at the gallery.
Offered for $20 for Semiahmoo Arts members, $25 for non-members (to cover materials) the writing workshop explores a favourite theme of frequent collaborators Greco and Cooper – ‘ekphrastic’ writing; essentially the creation of literary works directly inspired by visual imagery.
In a series of fun ‘stations’ relating to different elements – including colour and rhyme – the workshop is intended to open doorways of possibility for those interested in word imagery, Greco said.
“It’s been described as a poetry workshop, but it’s really a writing workshop for anyone who cares about language and effectively putting images onto paper by non-photographic means,” she said.
And, naturally, movements of Vivaldi’s Four Season’s will provide the musical background, Cooper and Greco said.
The whole development of Cooper’s current show, they point out, provides an example of the synesthesia inherent in the arts – in which different disciplines and media can merge and in which shapes, colours, musical notes and forms, words, and even physical movements, including mime and dance, can be seen as virtually interchangeable units of expression.
Cooper’s photographs and Vivaldi’s music, for instance, played an integral role in last year’s International Dance Day show at Surrey Arts Centre, presented by another of Cooper’s frequent collaborators Nela Hallwas of XBa Dance Company.
“You were choreographing a series of photographs,” Greco said.
Cooper notes that Vivaldi himself was so moved by the countryside in which he was living in Mantua, Italy, that his feelings were not confined to music alone, but also found expression in a set of sonnets published in 1725.
Her own discovery of the Serpentine Fen was casual, she said, after spending much of her working life driving past it.
“I started going there with my granddaughter Angelina in 2017,” she said. “It was the winter, so icy that the fen froze over – it was the first time I’d set foot in the fen despite living here for 40 years.”
Seeing the landscape partly though the excited eyes of her granddaughter – then nine years old – inspired her to start a project of photographing it, she said.
“I thought, I’ll come every month and photograph it. I did it in January and February but missed March – then I thought I could retrieve it by making it about the four seasons.”
Properly appreciating the fen was a matter of slowing down from the fast pace of our modern life, Cooper noted.
“At first blush, it’s not that riveting – all that you hear is the silence. But then you start to notice things, the birds, the little sounds. The slow reveal of nature begins.
“I wasn’t looking for anything, I was just going along with my camera,” she said.
“But every time you go there, it’s different. The light is different, the water is different. It depends on whether there’s a wind, what time of day it is. There’s always something new.”
Four Seasons At The Fen runs at the centre, 14601 20 Ave., until March 20. For full details, visit semiahmooarts.com