Last week, I attended the opening reception of the CCNY staff group show titled Don’t Look Back that was co-curated by I-Hsuen Chen and Alexander Perrelli. The show is up through this Saturday, July 27th.
It is always interesting to me with group shows where each artist is only showing 1-2 pieces to see how curators weave a story out of the show’s theme. In this case, Chen and Perrelli open their show with three images that instantly set a melancholic tone and place the viewer in limbo. First, we see Car Pelleteri’s Heather & I, Brighton Beach 16×20 print of an old snapshot of the photographer and her friend in bikinis with their backs to the camera looking over their shoulder at us. The time code on the snapshot says “91 6 28”. The next piece by John Stanley of his In a Hidden Place series shows a clearing in a wooded area with ropes or ties between tree branches. It is clear someone was here, but there is an ominous ambiguity about what we are looking at that is only amplified by the snapshot as evidence we just saw. With the third image, we meet our witness. In Michael J. Dalton II’s Untitled #13 a teenage girl lounges on a tree branch looking us in the eye with a bored expression like she knows what we’re thinking. We can have the past, because all she cares about is the future.
As the show progresses, Chen and Perrelli play with their title Don’t Look Back in a variety of interpretations that feels fun and ambitious. Ryan Foerster’s Hurricane is listed as a “unique chromogenic print with debris” – essentially a photo damaged by a storm, if we are to believe the title, creating a one-of-a-kind piece. Chen’s contribution to the show was also my personal favorite. His artist book In Between challenges the viewer in its placement of photos in the book where the central point of our attention is lost in the gutter creating a sense of frustration on the viewer’s part. It feels like Chen wants to share these moments with us, but is holding back hiding the best parts to keep for himself. Don’t Look Back also takes itself literally where we see our subjects from behind, including in Perrelli’s own work, or looking back as in Christina Thurston’s Untitled image of a young girl posing for the camera, trying to be present in the moment, but can’t help herself from turning back to see what’s been left behind.