About Becky

When I met Becky Silverstein she was crouched in front of the copy center next door to my favorite coffee shop. She was engaged in cutting and pasting fragments of what I would learn were her "prayers and explanations." Having walked over for a closer look, I noticed a tattoo running the length of her forearm; it spelled out SAINT in large black letters.

Following introductions, Becky handed me some pages. Each featured a dense tangle of handwriting in black "Sharpie" marker. As we conversed, I noticed that this handwriting also covered her purse, the rubber soles of her shoes, even the inner collar of her shirt.

One morning Becky presented me with a brown paper bag containing several hundred pages of her life story and a collection of prayers bound with electrical tape. She wondered if I might help her get it published. Since the work was prayerful, she explained, it simply "worked better" when more people read it. When I asked whether she had a particular publication in mind, she quickly responded, "TV Guide."

Soon after receiving her work, I left the country and it was a year before I reexamined the document. Impulse led me, aided by a magnifying glass and a ruler, to begin copying down strings of words. The text acquired a voice at once paranoid and hopeful, profoundly religious, yet saturated with popular culture--prayers for loved ones were followed with prayers for Captain Kirk. I decided to show the original document, along with my transcription, to a friend teaching American Studies at Harvard. When he asked to use it as the subject of an essay on religion, literature, and American culture, I told him I would look for Becky and see if I could obtain her permission.

Ultimately a line buried deep in her manuscript reconnected us: "my telephone number and address..." I dialed, Becky answered, and we agreed to meet for coffee. Soon after, Becky and the man she lives with invited me to dinner. Her studio apartment left me astonished. Every available surface was covered in text: the walls were papered with it, the furniture upholstered with it, the television, the vacuum cleaner, soup cans, and salt shakers were all crawling with language. Applied to doors and windows, the text warded off evil doers. Biblical chapters appeared on mundane objects to enhance functionality. Medicine bottles sported medicine prayers, soup cans, soup prayers.

This visit has culminated in a friendship and, to date, a collaborative installation entitled "Becky" at The Kitchen (2002), featuring a simulation of Becky's apartment and a recording of Becky whispering her text. Institution and invitation comprised a great deal of how that came to be and was negotiated. The invitation from the curators at the Kitchen entailed an offer to extend and formalize a collaboration which Becky and I had already initiated. I, in turn, extended the invitation to Becky. My issues, pertaining to representation in a collaborative dialogue, became focused on her.

The nature of this direct collaboration with Becky was influenced by the fact of our living on opposite coasts and our dialogue and the realization process was managed around my ability to travel and spend time with her in Los Angeles. As Becky would not and could not travel to New York, a significant part of the exhibition was created in her absence, but was grounded by the many meetings we had in person, as well as by meticulous notes and visual aids. That first installation was disassembled (although some distinct portions of it remain) and it is not likely to be repeated again.

Photographs of that first work are now shown alongside a room in which copies of Becky's original pages are glued to the four walls, ceiling and floor of a small room. Also featured is the original sound design of the original work, as well as a single color photograph of Becky. That iteration of the work was shown at Galleria Poggialli e Forconi in Florence, Italy (2013).