Whitehot Magazine

August 2011: Vanessa Albury

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New media art is an evolving outlet for creativity that evokes both excitement and apprehension. Burgeoning generations are fluent in video and digital photography, eager for filters, effects, and functions. Procedural particulars have been altered. Such modern reflections of reality pose shifting concerns about the nature of the image and the artist's role in its manifestation. Vanessa Albury challenges the role of the artist and the viewer while discerning and mutating the characteristics of cinema and photography.

Albury spearheaded her current practice with 35mm film photography. While receiving her MFA from NYU in 2008, she began her disarmingly rudimentary investigation of film. 'Spinning' (2008) is an approximately nine-minute film of Albury whirling, both indoors and outdoors, at her mother's house in Nashville, Tennessee. Each domestic locale escapes the viewer's understanding, allowing Albury to transform a familiar sanctum into a disorienting cloud. Brief flashes of thickets of wilderness or window treatments are interspersed with passages of blackness. In her disregard for recognizable time, place, and narrative, Albury besmirches the traditional compendium of cinema. Her blurred notions of reality slink through clear, man-made abstraction, summoning Gerard Richter's photographic abstractions melded with James Welling's kaleidoscopic sun-spots. The seductive turbulence in the film reminds the viewer of its technical constitution yet instills a false sense of self-contained narrative that is remarkably photographic. The constant conversation between the cinematic and the photographic is a staple of Albury's work. 'Tree Shadows' (2008) triumphs over similar terrain, leading the viewer down a languid, open country road as tree shadows intermingle on the pavement. The repetitive landscape, hypnotic slither of the route, and omission of stationary objects suspend the viewer in time.[1] Each inconsequential vision syncs with a sentimental node in the viewer, inciting contagious daydreaming. Subliminal tension swells when "the timelessness of photography which is comparable to the timelessness of the unconscious and memory" is brashly potent in film, which customarily implies time.[2]

Photography has been regarded as an indicator of passing time and death since the turn of the 20th century. Theoretically, the snapshot was an inexplicable moment: impossible to recreate and a betrayal to the truth of the moment in its lack of breath, of movement. 'Funeral (Projection)' (2005-08) cleverly mocks photography's mythological magnitude. The piece was realized at Albury's grandmother's funeral in 2004. The wide-angle, 35mm shot of a cleared out funeral hall situates the deceased, resting in her coffin, at the center of the image. A chandelier and several table lamps within the frame beam triumphantly, almost on the verge of bursting from augmented amplification at the time of death. A subterranean perspective bellies vulnerability. The photograph is presented as an installation: it occupies an entire wall as the hum of a projector contributes a drone to the collective viewing experience. The viewer slips into reverie amid the murmur of machinery and the weight of the relentless moment. Albury asserts this photograph as an uninterrupted, persistent memorial. It is an emotional scene identifiable to the subconscious of the viewer. Albury provides 'Funeral (Memory)' (2005-08) as a keepsake reflecting upon the installation. The highly pixelated Xerox copy of the projection challenges the subject's timelessness in memory. The Xerox is a synopsis, degrading the poignant image into a muddled scene of black and white diamonds. Photography parallels memory in this case, reflecting the instability of emotional documentation and the nuances of time. Repetition, as was the case in learning cursive or multiplication tables, can solidify memory while numbing one to the particulars of the present. Martha Langford discusses this discreet role of repetition and its ability to translate "memory to imagery:"

Repetition expresses duration, while blurring the dates. It features certain types of activities of psychological states, while siphoning off their specificity. Repetition is crucial to…performativity; it lets the spectator in. Thus generic personal memories share certain key aspects of public, or collective, memories. [3]

In 'Funeral (Projection)', Albury tricks the audience into this repetition by presenting the photograph as a film. The shared cinematic experience allows the viewer to tap into this "public" memory.

At the crux of photography and film, trauma finds its way into Albury's oeuvre. Merrian Webster defines trauma as "a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress". Thierry de Duve designated trauma similarly to Freud as "a failure of any secondary process" in which recognition of an object in the real world is equivocal in relation to the mental image formulated by the Id.[4] The secondary processes are related to the Ego, responsible for one's reasoning ability and connecting dots between representation and reality. Albury's trauma arises at first upon her implication of movement in photography, as can be seen in 'Funeral (Projection)' as well as 'The Weather Project' (2007). The latter consisted of the artist taking two Polaroids per day of the air near her current home in Brooklyn, New York. The second of the two photographs, taken seconds after the first, is meant to represent particles that may have traveled on the Jet Stream to Brooklyn from her home in Nashville, Tennessee. Some photographs were prompted by airborne stimuli: a bird flying, a cloud cluster, or a leaf falling. She photographed daily for nearly a year, taking on the impossibly abstract ambition of capturing the atmosphere. Albury presents change: visual proof of fluctuating breezes that embrace the ambiguous task and her specificity simultaneously. Each grouping is accompanied by a ten-day weather forecast and the particulars of the day's weather. The snapshot encompasses time, space, and progress, insinuating a narrative and facilitating "a breakdown in symbolic function."[5] The films discussed thus far function inversely, utilizing absence of time to disembowel any narrative elements and trigger pure disorientation. A new piece currently under construction, preemptively entitled 'Parallel Universe, Floating,' superimposes two images of a female covered in sparkles onto one piece of moving film. Despite a lack of grounding the figure is fluid and resists any fearfully abysmal fate, really any fate at all, through perpetual suspension. This predominant element is interspersed with flashes of the cosmos and small explosions. The film will appear with a vocal portion referencing passages from science, psychology, recounted dreams, and philosophical writings on the subject of falling and floating. Albury was interested in the paradoxical rupture of Uncle Albert's laughing complex in Mary Poppins, Willy Wonka's Fizzy Lifting Drinks, and the fragility of floating bubbles among other things. These uncanny experiences "suggest impending danger without any danger present," Albury explains, that is perceived and self-generated uncontrollably. Speech serves as the singular indicator of time, weaving a collective narrative around the thematic principles. Intriguingly, Albury addresses the anomaly of her work in interplanetary terms: finding footing in gravity versus escaping it.

Although a large amount of her work pulverizes each of her two chosen mediums, Albury's work also tracks the ideological evolution of space they each present. Cinema Lucida, for example, is an on-going project to communicate and live with the viewer. Inspired by Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida, this project organizes contemporary and early video art around a theme. Through Barthes' enthusiasm for liberated time free from narrative and linearity, Albury channels the ghostly presence of the creator without harking on her specific aesthetic purgatory. Her first screening, 'Of The Body'' (2010), was screened in Nashville, Tennessee. A few poignant entries include Bas Jan Ader's falling experiments from Amsterdam in the 1970's, Kate Gilmore's makeshift totem of chairs in 'Anything…' (2006), Marcel DuChamps's hypnotic 'Anemic Cinema' (1926), and the navigation around an imaginary fire-pit in Sue de Beer's 'Sisters' (2009). Each video contrasts the physical body with corporeal awareness. Beyond this generalized motif, one is beleaguered to find a more distinct narrative. Albury continues to thwart the viewer's ability to coalesce appropriate media with inverted characteristics. Each film invites the viewer to step outside of time. They continually reference the frame of photography, cropping a specific part of reality that exists singularly within the work.

There is a distinct sentimentality at the core of Albury's work. Outside of the persistent references to her own life and family, projects like Cinema Lucida adhere to collective memory. By extending into the realm of reminiscence, she disregards the symbolism of media and modern society. Her persistence with analog film and Polaroids further emphasizes her resistance to the disposability of digital media. Nevertheless, she recognizes the selectivity of memory and how it contributes to positive and negative connotations clinging to the viewing experience. Despite memory's fickleness and history's fortitude, "memory, with its evanescent yet specific inflections of meaning, is history in a Postmodern culture."[6] 'Your Fears, My Hopes III (Okinawa)' (2009) links Albury's provocation of media with communal history. In the midst of World War II, Albury's grandfather participated in dropping the atomic bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 'Your Fears, My Hopes' had several incarnations of varying dimensions and components. The version displayed in Okinawa [installed at Into the Atomic Sunshine, curated by Shinya Wantanabe at Okinawa Prefectural Museum] consisted of a 16mm film reeled through traditional editing equipment, accompanied by an oval hole puncher that viewers were encouraged to deploy on the film itself. As the oval voids overwhelm the film, a newly edited product emerges. The details of the travesty in Japan have been battled over time but remain a collective understanding. Individuals who actually lived through the event, however, are dwindling. These individual experiences, the oval morsels of memory, donate insight and weight to the event. The film in Albury's piece, in its final incarnation, will be viewed by an audience in its fragmented, yet still functional, state. Similarly to losing the witnesses of historic events, the final event is neutralized by summarization and simplification.

Memory ignites nostalgic recognition rather than narrative in her work, inviting the audience to participate as they congregate. Her works allow for a brief moment of clarity that provokes aesthetic insecurity in tension between photograph and cinema, singular moments and a grander narrative, memory and documentation. Instantaneous trauma ensues as her audience is reminded that mindful psychological engagement can enliven as well as nullify the reality within an image. Photography encapsulates a similar paradox standing for "loss and [the] protection against loss."[7] Another new project of Albury's utilizes Polaroids to track light moving across her apartment. Each series of five to fifteen images stalks the transition. As the camera clicks, each ray is brought to death despite its donation to the vague narrative. The assigned movement of the light juxtaposes the "silence and immobility which belong to and define all photography."[8] This piece subtly contradicts her prior work in that it pardons the photograph from memory. In tracking each movement and reflection of the light, she blocks its transformation into memory through documentation.[9] The viewer is able to follow each reflection and blurry comprehension, debilitating the fluidity of personalized absorption and eventual evaporation.

Beyond the singularity of photography or cinema Albury investigates instability, flaws and loopholes in each medium. Content rivals collective coherence and memory. Albury has oftentimes been frustrated by the concept of a portrait, a visual summation resisting a more thorough understanding of the sitter. The viewer of such a portrait must inevitably contribute their opinion to its reading, but may not be any closer to understanding the sitter. Nan Goldin notes that "this is not a bleak world but one in which there is an awareness of pain, a quality of introspection."[10] Albury addresses this sense of the enduring world, confronted by morphing imagery and its connection to our individual realities. Her work requires endurance, allowing you to journey through respective cerebral notions. Her traumatic encounters bind to the "oscillating movement between remembering and forgetting, presence and past."[11]

1. Vanessa Albury, www.vanessaalbury.com

2. Christian Metz, 'Photography and Fetish,' October, no. 34 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Fall 1985)

3. Martha Langford, Scissors, Paper, Stone: Expressions of Memory in Contemporary Photography, (Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queens University Press, 2007) 25

4. Thierry de Duve, 'Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox,' October, no. 5 (Cambridge, Massachussetts: MIT Press, Summer 1978) 113-25

5. Ibid

6. Mark A. Cheetham, Remembering Post Modernism: trends in recent Canadian art (Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press, 1991)

7. Christian Metz, 'Photography and Fetish,' October, no. 34 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, Fall 1985); reprinted in Carol Squiers, ed., The Critical Image (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1991) 155-64

8. Ibid

9. Ulrich Baer, Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002) 9

10. Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (New York, NY: Aperture Foundation, Inc., 1986) 6

11. Angela Stief, Gerald Matt 'Art and Wound: On the Aesthetics of Dream and Trauma,' from Dream and Trauma: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens (Austria: Hatje Cantz, 2007) 11-23



Lynn Maliszewski

Lynn Maliszewski is a freelance writer and aspiring curator/collector residing in New York City. She can be reached at l.malizoo@gmail.com

PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Norman (

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