Bjarne Bare, If, Then, Because, Since and So

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Hassla Books (here). Hardcover, 48 pages, with 30 color photographs. There are no texts or essays included. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: For an early career photographer, Bjarne Bare has a remarkably mature sense for the clarity of photographic form. A recent graduate of UCLA’s MFA program, Bare has spent the past few years iteratively exploring the properties of lines, from a 2014 single subject photobook study of a shiny silver boat grapple and a tangle of shifting ropes (entitled Grapnel Grapple) to a subsequent project reveling in the formal draped beauty of boat motors wrapped in cloth and cords (Outboard Swaddle).

Bare’s most recent project/photobook continues this incisive exploration of form on two separate planes. If, Then, Because, Since and So interleaves two sets of imagery, putting deliberate in-studio construction into direct dialogue with found instances of formal structure and working back and forth between the two, encouraging us to see aesthetic echoes and resonances.

An array of industrial peg boards forms the foundation of Bare’s constructed images, their regular rows and columns of black holes providing a rigidly ordered (almost mathematical) backdrop on which to improvise. Bare is by no means the first photographer to discover the formal power of peg boards – Shannon Ebner has used them for years to arrange letters and tool outlines and Amanda Ross-Ho often employed them in her earlier works to systematically organize gatherings of photographs and other found objects – but he has turned the dotted array into something akin to a sketchbook of physical graph paper.

Using stretchy elastic bungee cords with hooks at each end as his device for mark making, he has pulled the colored cords into Minimalist arrangements of angle and interconnection. Single line segments give way to pairs and clusters, the constrained options of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal augmented by connections that bend and distort the flexible cords with kinks and corners. Subtle notions of balance and proportion are thoughtfully explored, the white space of the array just as compostionally important as the sparse lines that adorn it. When a handful of cords are used in tandem, the straight lines seem to branch and divide, the linkages creating tributaries and expansions filled with spare elegance. As made-to-be-photographed set-ups, these works feel broadly open ended, with a nearly endless set of intriguing formal permutations and abstract riffs to be tested.

Bare has paired these line studies with a selection of found arrangements that are equally enamored with two dimensional geometric structure (and that have some echoes of the kinds of scenes that have attracted Chris Wiley). And while the sequencing of the images makes it clear that Bare’s bungee cord sculptures were not made to directly mimic the forms he has discovered elsewhere, the synergy between the two sets of seeing (and spatial problem solving) is obvious.

Straight line-dominated images attract his attention again and again. A hole in a chain link fence repaired with yellow rope is particularly dense with linear patterning, as are a settled cinder block wall (its bricks now off kilter) and a corrugated tin fence with layers of painted fixes. And a zig zag of metal fence and its shadow create a doubled grid of elongated rectangles, while the crossed logs of wooden grocery cart rack pares the geometries down to just a few framework intersections.

Rounds and curves also make appearances, but always within a strict sense of formal logic. The sinuous lines and shadows of a garden trellis climbs up a sun blasted wall, a network of tar drips fixes a road, and the spiky leaves of a roughly clipped palm create a starburst of stubby lines. Perhaps the most complex of Bare’s found abstractions brings together an impromptu sculptural arrangement consisting of a rusted barbecue, a mismatched window screen, and horizontal wooden blinds, with layers of cast shadows interrupting the crisp spatial balance.

When seen in page-turn conversation, the two sets of pictures feel well matched, the graphic simplicity of the peg board pieces encouraging us to see the elemental formal backbone of the found scenes – Bare seems to be telling us that both can be reduced to a pared down set of linear essentials. That observation may not be entirely novel, but Bare’s tight execution of his examples makes the concept still feel fresh and vibrant.

There also feels like there is an important connection between Bare’s bungee cord line drawings and some of Sam Falls’ sun-bleached burlap compositions. In both, we find artists working their way back from photography to a kind of hand-made Minimalism, and that warmth of touch feels meaningfully different from the cool sleekness we generally associate with hard edges and pure geometries.

In the end, this photobook is ready evidence that there are intriguing ideas worth paying attention to percolating around in Bare’s work. The finely tuned peg board lines have got my mind churning, wondering where this aesthetic innovation might lead next.

Collector’s POV: Bjarne Bare is represented by OSL Contemporary in Oslo (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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