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Getting to Know Becca Albee

You may know Becca Albee from her introspective, conceptual artwork, or perhaps from her riot grrrl days, having played in influential bands like Excuse 17 (with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein) and Heartless Martin (with S-K’s Corin Tucker). Or maybe you know Albee from around the nabe—she has lived in Greenpoint since the fall of 2003.

Albee has studied art in its various forms since she was a teenager, and currently makes work she describes as photo-based, no matter what the medium. “Even if I’m working with sculpture, installation or video, I feel like it’s informed by photography,” Albee said. In addition to being an artist, Albee is also a photography professor at the City College of New York, though she was on sabbatical this past year to partake in a residency program she recently completed at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

Before Albee made artwork with the intent of showing it, and pre-dating Kathleen Hanna’s familiarity with the then unheard of, art-world savvy term “studio visit,” Hanna perused her friend’s work. It wasn’t in a proper studio; it was instead in Albee’s apartment in Olympia, Washington (circa the mid nineties). Hanna, liking what she saw, put Albee in her first art show. The exhibition was one Hanna had organized and curated.

The opportunity was transitional for Albee and gave her the confidence to take herself seriously enough to continue the body of work she was making and propose a show to an arts collective in Seattle.

Though, since before she became enamored with visual art, music had always played first fiddle for Albee, and the music she played—appealing to such a specific audience—proved never to interfere or inhibit her life as a visual artist. Albee does not feel her Olympia-based music past has forced her to have to redefine her identity publically as a musician-turned-visual-artist. “It’s a little bit of my past that either people know about and actually know what the context was, or they don’t, and either way it’s fine,” Albee said. More importantly, Albee’s own takeaway from that time period has been positive and everlasting: The community in which she came of age has resonated. Many of those who were involved have since made their way from the West Coast to New York, and coincidentally, several are involved with visual art.

Albee’s work is informed organically and inspired by people she’s close to and things around her that spark her curiosity. “I definitely don’t make autobiographical work but I do have a tendency to reference or look to things that are immediately surrounding me . . . It’s not about my experience necessarily, but it’s using what I know or am interested in to then hopefully articulate something else,” she said.

Whether it stems from an ongoing fascination she’s had since she was a child, as is the case with Albee’s interest in child “diplomat” and media darling Samantha Smith; learning about her grandfather who died when she was just one year old through the lens of his negatives and photographs of flowers (and then making them her own in a sense); or a dialogue with Hanna that eventually turns into an official collaboration, Albee’s work thrives on discovery and candidness. “I would say most of my collaborations have come out of friendships and things that normally happen within friendships, and then organically turned into work.”

Albee has also created work with evidence of people and remnants of things, but not always the people or things themselves. A recent video that is part of a three-person show in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Inconsciente óptico at 713Arte Contemporáneo will be up through September 11. (This also showed this summer in the Chrysler Building as part of a series called “The Chrysler Series.”) Albee utilized her close proximity to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and filmed President Obama’s arrival and departure from the vantage point of her former LMCC studio. The video she made shows the process—the complex choreography, systems and procedures—around Obama’slanding and taking off, an otherwise fairly banal experience.

For now, it’s back to school for Albee as her sabbatical has officially ended and classes at City College started last week. As well, she is working in the studio on a couple of new projects. In the meantime, fans will have to wait patiently to see what kind of magic Albee will unleash next.

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