What is the history of a particular site? Is it within the written records, the published accounts? Is it in the vernacular, verbal histories of its communities, the histories of its individuals? The artifacts and architecture of its past and present?
The projects of the artist Becca Albee have been generated by a curiosity about tracing a history, whether that bedrawn from a personal archive or in the public sphere, looking for a tall tale to examine, or a cultural movement, or a particular aesthetic, or a collection of personal artifacts. Her practice uses physical materials as the means with which to research stories, by mining for artifacts, whether those physical materials be old photographic negatives from a family, or newspapers, or published books, orthe personal items carried in pockets or purses. Albee investigates the mechanisms of history by using such material as the original subject material for an art practice, through processes such as photographing the material, then scanning,printing, and rephotographing, staging setups in the studio. These photographs are either the springboard for the project or become part of the final work, recreating artifacts to reconstruct stories.
This process is at once both blind and guided, led by the encounters, the directions, wayward and forward, that the research practice uncovers,aprocess of recreating artifactsin which the artist looks to the visual, social, and political implications of these original materials and to the references they can have when re-contextualized.
As an example, her recent series of prints Radical Feminist Therapy (2016), was inspired by her encounter with a book, Radical Feminist Therapy: Working in the Context of Violence by Bonnie Burstow, which she had read in undergraduate school.The work saw a process of the artist scanning each page of the book that she had annotated by hand – each page in which she had underlined passages and made handwritten notations -and then removing from the scans the printed text, leaving only her handwritten marks, collapsing the scanned pages of each of the fifteen chapters into fifteen single pages, producing a series of fifteen final individual prints - so deconstructing the original treatise while creating an inscrutable visual archive of her earlier thinking.
This means of thinking about materials and of making work does several things. Primarily, it deconstructs the hierarchiesof objective and subjective, and positions as central to the artist’s work the challenge of the intersubjective, the notion of knowing the subjective experience of an other and of expressing the subjective experience of a self- a notion described as quale or qualia - a quality or property as perceived or experienced by a person, e.g. ‘in a different world, I could have the qualia of ‘red’ when looking at the sky (but would continue to label it as ‘blue’)’. Secondly,it positions her practice as somewhere between the individualartistic freedom of Paul Klee’s taking a line for a walkand the collective radical potential of the dériveof Guy Debord. In this, Albee’s stated method is a powerful approach to adoptto a particular site and its written records, its artifacts and its vernacular histories.
The technique of the dérive is well known as a critical concept in the theories of the Situationist International, as an unplanned journey through a landscape(in the case of the Situationist International, usually urban) or as a rapid passage through varied ambiencesin which participants let themselves be guided by disorientation into negating their everyday relations and everydayconditioning drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.
The relationship of an art practice to the commitment of an artist’s residency can de understood as the gradual progress of theorientationof the practice to a new environment: beyond this, Albee’s practicealso holds the promise of encountering Fort Dunree with this force of a parallel disorientation.
BECCA ALBEE's work includes photography, sculpture, video, and performance. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a BA from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Her work has recently been written about in Artforum, Aperture, The New York Times, and Bomb. Recent residencies and fellowships include: Yaddo, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and MacDowell Colony. She is currently an Associate Professor of Art at The City College of New York, CUNY.
Text by Declan Sheehan, Independent Curator and part of selection panel for the 2017 residency programme.