Beginning July 22, 2023, MASS MoCA will present Elle Pérez: Intimacies, an exhibition of photographs by the acclaimed Bronx-born, Puerto Rican photographer. The show will be on view in B6: The Robert Wilson Building, through June 2024. This selection of works is an expanded presentation of a body of work titled Devotions shown in part in Pérez’s recent exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum and at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The exhibition also features photographs Pérez made for the 2022 Venice Biennale and includes a total of 27 photographs made between 2018 and 2023, in addition to a video work, Wednesday, Friday (2022).
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Pérez first began making photographs as a teenager, documenting the underground, queer punk clubs in their Bronx neighborhood. Photographing their own social circle, they captured the gestures, dramas and relationships lived out in spaces where black, brown, and queer communities were centered. Pérez would share images online and respond to their friends’ feedback on how they did or did not want to be represented. This frank exchange between photographer and subject/audience became a template for the artist’s collaborative ethos – years later, the trust that exists in Pérez’ relationships has lent a unique vulnerability to the images they make. Many works visualize not only their own intimate life, but intimate exchanges between friends, lovers, and athletes in order to explore the multiple forms of relationships and their dynamics.
Fluidity and connection are central themes within the artist’s practice, which explores the thresholds and intersections between light and dark, surface and depth, between control and submission, between one body and another. Landscape figures prominently in the photographs, functioning as both an intimate partner in the relationship between humans and the natural world and as a metaphor for the body and its own cycles, tides, and perpetual states of transformation. While repeated images of water and liquid evoke the tides that drive us, water also figures as a destructive force in images of flooding in Puerto Rico. Depending on which way one enters the exhibition, the show begins or ends with the video Wednesday, Friday (2022) which Pérez filmed on two different trips to Puerto Rico the year after Hurricane Maria hit the island, capturing the complexities of the everyday experience.
Pérez has expressed that their work captures some vital force in each of their subjects. In Intimacies, such vital force – in turns natural, erotic, platonic, violent, tender – is generously shared.