Looking Back

The first public showing of a young artist’s work is uniquely electric–the air carries a quiet humility and the hum of potential. The nervous energy is infectious. Multiply this by four and you have the feel of [Per-Sep-Shuhn], the senior photography exhibition for Northern Illinois University seniors Jessica Bronge, Laura Fenwick, Sarah Furman, and Steven Connolly at the Chicago Art Department.

The first collection in the space is entitled “Kaleidoscope Heart: An Exercise in Perception through Optics,” by Laura Fenwick. Eight brightly colored, square-cropped images created using self-modified lenses line the walls. The subjects of the photographs are unclear, but each image is titled with GPS coordinates. “I wanted to go into very public places where things might be overlooked or taken for granted,” she says. As for the coordinates, they allow viewers to “go back to that exact location.” She points out a particular image and explains that although the photograph is dominated by blues and greens, the subject–a rock formation on NIU’s campus that is, as she describes it, “grossly overlooked”–is, in reality, the color of most rock formations: brown. “Ultimately, my goal is for people to know that they can control the way they perceive things even though they can’t control how they see them,” Fenwick concludes.

Jessica Bronge’s statement begins and ends with the sentence, “Dreams are a small fragment in our lives; most of us pay no attention to them.” Her digital collages suggest things seen before–perhaps in a dream. Murky, muted colors and high contrast define Bronge’s dreamscapes, creating an otherworldly haze. The most striking image, titled “John the Baptist,” shows a man’s blurry, disembodied head superimposed on a tiled alcove, lit by a skylight. And some are more cryptic than others; determining their actual subjects takes study.

Recycled frames made of rough, light-colored wood outline Sarah Furman’s collection, whose colors and subjects incite a nostalgia more suggestive of film photography than digital. In fact, some of the images are scanned archival photographs of the artist and her family members. “They all have some sort of new element to them,” she says, alluding to the subtle architectural and textural overlays that make each image seem like a double-exposure. Some of the alterations and edits are almost imperceptible, including a thin mesh pattern on top of a self-portrait. She says that this collection has been her way of documenting “how relationships have changed my life, including my relationship with myself.” This turn inwards and backwards seems fitting for that period of impending graduation, and the general infatuation that our generation has with the question, “Why?”

“I’ve never been one to be in front of the camera, so this is very unusual,” Steven Connolly says of his collection, “Both sides of a Decision.” Presented via dye-sublimation on large rectangles of aluminum, his collection juxtaposes two different “sides” of himself, separated by the desire and motivation to lose weight. This literal take on the artist’s inner struggles proves not only courage on Connolly’s part, but also superb talent in post-processing and editing techniques. He says in his statement, “There is a side of me that is always trying to improve myself…this half is the one that sets goals and tries working towards them. Then there is the other side…this half questions everything that I do, undermines my progress and points out my flaws.” In one image, one side chooses a leaf blower and the other a rake; in another, one rides a bicycle uphill as the other sits in a black Jeep oriented downhill. One image even combines the two halves, showing him peering apprehensively into a mirror while his reflection points at him and yells.

Somehow, despite the wide range of both theme and technique throughout the individual collections, the four artists come together to make visual the journey of self-realization that has led up to this event.

Chicago Art Department, 1932 S. Halstead St. Free. (312) 725-4223. chicagoartdepartment.org