Opening Reception - Friday, September 22, 2023
*Please note: there are several steps to enter the main gallery and this exhibition is on the second floor. There is a large staircase to access the no. 5 gallery space. Gallery staff is happy to lend a hand if you need assistance on the stairs.
Before her death in 2022, Carol Chase Bjerke organized and catalogued her life’s work, an immense task which included the artwork occupying the walls and storage spaces in her home and studio, as well as the numerous works in public and private collections across North America and abroad. This retrospective, co-curated by Chase Bjerke through written instructions she drafted prior to her death, will include the four large binders that catalogue her many bodies of work for viewers to experience firsthand. Examination of these books reveals common threads running through artworks that at first glance seem less connected than one might expect in the output of a single artist. Chase Bjerke created an array of artwork including artist books and large scale installations and felt there was a strong correlation between these two mediums, saying of the subject “both allow for the expansion of ideas beyond a single image, and both incorporate space and time for immersing oneself with the art”. All of Chase Bjerke’s work included repeated patterns and motifs, and examples from these bodies of work will also be included to view in the gallery. This exhibition of the work of Carol Chase Bjerke will be the fourth solo feature of her work at Abel Contemporary Gallery.
Remembering the work of Carol Chase Bjerke - Saturday September 23, 2pm
In conjunction with the installation of “In Memoriam: Carol Chase Bjerke” we will be hosting an event to celebrate Carol’s life and artwork. Whether you knew Carol personally or were an admirer of her art you are welcome to gather with us in gallery no.5 to view the exhibit and share remembrances.
Speakers include Lee Bjerke, Katherine Steichen Rosing, Theresa Abel, and Ann Orlowski. Anyone in attendance is welcome to speak. This event will begin at 2pm on the second floor of the building in gallery no.5 with no specific end time.
Carol photographing Carin on Mt. Kearsarge, NH
October, 10, 2016
Mt. Kearsarge Carin
Carols ashes have been places by this evergreen tree near the Carin on Mt. Kearsarge
Creativity is a process, and an opportunity for befriending the unknown.
Life is a process, and an opportunity for befriending death.
Each of us is part of a vast continuum, and there is a ripple effect.
- Carol Chase Bjerke
PREFACE from Catalog for an Imaginary Retrospective Exhibition
A while back in correspondence with an artist friend, I wrote that I had spent the day painting gallery walls at our local photo center in preparation for an exhibition. His response: "Surely there is someone else to do that for you." | thought of this recently when I mentioned to another artist friend that it seemed it was time for a retrospective but I had not been able to make this happen through available channels. Her response: "Put it out there yourself."
This is not my first venture into imaginary scenarios. As a graduate student in 1986, my popup photo book called Point of Departure: Journal for an Imaginary Journey was the substitute project for a much-anticipated real trip that was cancelled at the last moment. Fortunately I was able to participate when that travel program was rescheduled the following year, and it was pivotal to my growth as an artist. But Point of Departure was equally important. It was the most highly developed piece I had done to date, and the first in which I was totally aware of the creative process per se as it evolved in tandem with the content and structure of the project. It also included elements that have come to characterize much of my work since. A mix of traditional and experimental techniques, for example. And unlikely combinations such as whimsy and strict attention to detail. This book has received more public recognition than most of my other books. Which is interesting in that it has never been purchased by a collector, and has sat on a shelf in my studio for decades along with other accumulated works featured in this imaginary showcase.
The artwork occupying much of the wall and storage space in my home and studio, as well as its representative kin in public and private collections across North America and elsewhere, includes several large bodies of work that at first glance may seem less connected than one might expect in the oeuvre of a single artist. But on closer inspection, common threads reveal themselves. Formal considerations include repetition of patterns and motifs. More subtle or complex nuances include holding the tension of opposites. Presentation is always important. And despite the difference in scale, there is a strong correlation between artists' books and large installations. Both allow for the expansion of ideas beyond a single image, and both incorporate space and time for immersing oneself with the art.
Space and time for immersion is important as the work emerges in the studio. It is also essential on the part of the viewer for an appropriate grasp of the presentation. This latter is perhaps the key to what I have often perceived as less than a satisfying amount of attention paid to the art. These days most viewers move so quickly that they can't possibly catch more than a fleeting glance at the things they encounter. So imagine how warmed and encouraged I was by the young artist who told me she had spent an hour and a half with my TOUCH/STONES installation at Artisan Gallery (now Abel Contemporary), and still wasn't ready to leave when her boyfriend came to collect her. Thanks, Angela. This catalog is for you.
- Carol Chase Bjerke 2021
Artist must invent themselves. - Bill T. Jones
The Artist's Studio. c. 2020
As a non-traditional undergraduate student (i.e. a woman in her thirties with children), my integrity in terms of being an artist was already in question. Virtually all women artists who were in school during the 1970s have stories like this. When it came to arranging childcare so I could attend classes, even the Principal of my daughter’s elementary school made it as difficult as he could. His rule was that only children whose mothers had an actual paying job were allowed to eat in the school cafeteria. No exceptions. Because according to him the only other reason a mother would not want her kids at home for lunch was that it would interfere with her watching her TV soaps. Really. He said that. End of conversation. As we all did for each other, a friend came through to have my two eat lunch at her house so I would have time to commute the 30 miles to campus and participate as a student.
But that was only the beginning. When my financial situation changed part way through the program and I needed to learn additional skills in order to support myself, I switched my concentration to graphic design. Strike two on the negative side. Because in the art department a focus in “Commercial Art” as it was called at the time, was akin to selling one’s soul. Hence there was only one professor for the area. And since he was in ill health, classes were often cancelled. Several times after getting childcare in place and driving to Mt. Pleasant, I would find a note on the door saying “No class today.” No apologies, and no information about assignments or make-up classes. Finally I went to the department office and told the Chair what I had been experiencing, along with my concerns for not being able to learn what I needed. Without a moment’s hesitation, and ignoring any departmental responsibility, he sharply informed me that the university did not exist for women who should be home with their children. Really. He said that. And again – end of conversation.
I was too near completion of my degree requirements to consider another change in direction, so I enrolled in additional graphics classes at a nearby community college in order to fill some of the gaps. And then finally I had the good fortune to meet with a local corporate Art Director, who pointed out that I really should know more about photographic processes because they were the basis of the printing industry at the time. So I audited my first darkroom class. And was hooked.
TOURIST IN EDEN
This series began as a grad school exploration of color negative film and processing. My choice of Diana cameras for the project was fortuitous. All meshed beautifully and evolved from basic technical considerations through an in-depth study of color, perception, and human interaction with the environment. It became my MFA show, then continued to grow for decades, while also informing other bodies of work right up to the present day.
It has to do with ways of seeing and being in the world.
We are integral to the landscape that surrounds us.
It is as fragile as we are.
The balance is precarious.
Presence and absence.
Beauty and tension.
Connection and isolation.
Intimacy and loneliness.
The yin and yang of it all.
Carry a camera, preferably a lightweight one.
After the Fall
For a subsequent After the Fall installation I worked with a commercial lab to have 4- and 6-foot square prints made from my Diana negatives. The 6-foot version of that torn photo of the Cherry shrub became the centerpiece for the show. I also tore the print’s test strip into small pieces and scattered them like fallen leaves on the floor below. Suddenly they seemed like tears as well. Aha. How could I not have registered that tear as in torn looks the same as tear as in in crying? More layers of meaning.
Mountains and Prairies
I had lived in the Midwest for many years by the time I moved to Madison, but it was here that I came to know the prairie up close. Remnants grow even inside the city limits, so photographing them seemed the most natural thing to do as I explored my new surroundings. I made a few images with my remaining Diana and her replacement Holga, but right away it was obvious that square was not a good format for this subject. Fortunately it was the era of cheap disposable cameras, and among them was a panorama version with a single element meniscus lens and limited controls. So It was the perfect next step in my pursuit of images made with the simplest of equipment. The edge effect was limited to the two narrow sides by the panorama cropping, but it still did great things when pointed into or near the sun. I made a little series called Prairie Light Dance, then also started packing these cameras on my trips to hike the mountain trails back in New England and elsewhere. The subsequent Mountain Pieces series is about finding ways to satisfy my longing for mountain scenery while living in the Midwest.
Photography and book arts have a long history of overlap. I have incorporated books and book-related pieces into multiple bodies of work throughout my career.
There is a serenity in the realization of my being here now.
I enjoy these images and the processes by which I make them.
TOUCH/STONES is about the point of contact. A connection.
A person picks up a stone and places it on another stone,
and there is evidence of their having been at that spot.
A cairn on a granite mountain. A wall on a limestone and shale island.
A tomb, a portal, a stile. A ritual, an offering, a game, a path.
Return to Mountain: The Hunger Mountain Story
I was drawn to David Hinton’s Hunger Mountain book by its title, and by its cover art featuring this humble mountain in Vermont juxtaposed with a classical depiction of Chinese mountains and trees. Hinton is a scholar of Chinese language and poetry with a particular interest in the rivers-and-mountains landscape tradition espoused by poets and painters living in the Thatch-Hut Mountain area of ancient China. He’s also a hiker, and I was intrigued by his premise that trekking his local mountain puts him more closely in touch with “those ancient sage-masters [who] saw the deep structure of things most clearly when in the presence of mountain landscapes.” it resonates with my history of finding clarity and refuge in the New England mountains of my formative years. And with my interest in Asian art and culture fostered by a time of living in Hong Kong.
Like much of my previous work, this Hunger Mountain series is interlaced with subtlety and paradox, and looks to landscape as a source for motif and metaphor. But it was actually inspired by Hinton’s beautiful little story about an imaginary poet named Summit-Gate. Imaginary, because while he has found no extant evidence that women poets participated in the venerable Thatch-Hut Mountain complex, Hinton is convinced they were there. And so he made them up. You will find my brief summary of Summit Gate’s story in the sidebar. The complete Hinton original is posted with the Hunger Mountain artwork in this imaginary retrospective. Or better yet, I encourage you to read it for real in the book. Because Hinton’s writing is eloquent. And very very visual. His descriptions of Summit-Gate’s mountain setting, and of the leaves and what she did with them, are so vivid. It was like a gift just waiting to be made into this body of work.