Touch is a construct of sensory deception. At the atomic level, bodies and objects can never physically meet, but merely exert a proximate effect when hovering close enough to trick the brain into producing tactile sensation. Elle Pérez’s camera lures the eye into seeing a pair of rocks joined in a kiss, with joyous light seeming to emanate from their intimate contact—a striking configuration, manifest entirely to vision.
Pérez’s latest work in Host, their first exhibition at Commonwealth and Council, remakes the world-as-is, using their camera to probe the apparent reality for new potentialities, (re)considering our notions about intimacy, kinship, and all the attendant pleasures—and pain too—that our bodies carry, manifest, withhold. The artist groups images into what they call “configurations,” an ongoing syntactical exploration of photographic images as discrete expressive and affective modules, self-contained yet multivalent in their promiscuous permutations with other photos. As one’s gaze shifts from picture to picture, vignettes from one image fade, only to reemerge within another—flushed skin echoed in a flower’s vibrant crimson, a color trail of rusty bronze meandering through sequences that confuse the boundaries between body and nature, flesh rendered without flesh. Pérez crafts an almost anthropomorphic give-and-take of figuration and obfuscation, finding a ribcage in the gnarled roots of a cypress tree or the innuendo of a daylily’s splayed and furled petals.
Even as they infer the body in depictions of objects and the landscape, Pérez’s images revel in formal communions of line, shadow, and gesture. A rusty chain chokes a pair of weathered ornate doors while the aging white paint flakes away from the ironwork and rotting wood like worn leather, cracked and resilient. A loose tangle of barbed wire shudders in and out of focus across a scant stretch of West Texas desert, delicately twining amongst its own shadows, scattered twigs, and the intricately textured ground.
Pérez grants us flashes of legibility, eschewing verisimilitude for deeper visual realities rooted in synecdochical allusions redolent of desire, tactility, and fluid states of being-becoming. The act of looking sets off a process of piecing-together, and from these fragmented revelations we, too, become visible; we can know as we are known.
Elle Pérez (b. 1989, Bronx, New York; lives and works in New York) received an MFA from Yale University in 2015 and BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2011. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2021); Public Art Fund, New York (2019); MoMA PS1, New York (2018); and 47 Canal, New York (2018). Pérez’s work has been included in group exhibitions at 47 Canal, New York (2021, 2020); Galerie Neu, Berlin (2021); the Renaissance Society, Chicago (2020); the Barbican Centre, London (2020); the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2019); and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019). They are the recipient of the Vermont Studio Center Civil Society Institute Fellowship (2015), Theo Westenberger Foundation Photography Prize (2014), Bronx Recognizes Its Own Grant (2012), and the Jane Meyer Photography Traveling Fellowship (2011). Pérez will participate in Orlando at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, opening in 2022.