Gail Gregg: The Album Series
January 29, 2010 – May 2, 2010
This exhibition features recent work by Gail Gregg, a K-State alumnus and New York City-based artist. These eighteen works on paper form Gregg’s “Album” series. Like much of her current work, this series explores geometric abstraction through the use of found supports. Here, Gregg has recycled pages taken from anonymous, cast-off scrapbooks and family photo albums she gathered from flea markets and other sources.
In February 1900 Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie camera, a small device with a cardboard box body available for one dollar. The inexpensive, enormously influential, and widely available Brownie was the first point-and-shoot camera. It placed the power of photography in the hands of the masses. The origins of the snapshot and the practice of documenting one’s family with photographs organized into albums can be traced back to the Brownie. This modest camera also, Gregg reminds us, “allowed each and every one of us to become a visual autobiographer.” Her work on view in this exhibition plays on the notion of photographic-based visual autobiography. As she has written:
In my new “Album” project, I have “collaborated” with many post-Brownie families, whose scrapbooks of memories wound up in flea markets or junk shops or dusty attics. What happened to the happy families framed by photo-corners on the tan or black pages of these albums? Where is Furgy now? And who was Mrs. Smith? Does anyone still inhabit the bleak farmhouse silhouetted against an unrelenting Midwestern sun? Did these family lines die off, without heirs to protect their ancestors’ cherished memories? Or did family schisms prompt an angry relative to relegate the albums to oblivion? These earnest faces, these carefully staged settings are mysterious, even disturbing — miniature Edward Hoppers in black-and-white.
A traumatic family disruption of my own prompted this “Album” series: I imagine it as a kind of collaboration with the anonymous keepers of their own family flames. As I struggled to reconcile a new reality with my own memories of three-and-a-half decades of family life, I began searching out the visual autobiographies of others. By removing the photographs from the humble albums I found – with their leatherette bindings or covers carefully decorated by a hobbyist’s wood-burning kit, I expose an absence of a person, an event, a place.
Working in graphite or pastel, I then replace the form of the photograph with a ghost of a memory – an abstract place-holder for a very specific moment in time. My hope is that this new “non-photo” communicates a sense of loss, a sense of the tenderness with which important benchmarks in a life are recorded – and, finally, a sense of possibility. The forms are tragically empty — and yet, they also can stand as blank slates on which new futures, new lives can be written. Finally, these pages – so delicate and time-ravaged (like us, their creators) – are organized into “albums,” which take on a new and formal beauty as abstract objects.