Reviewed by Lisa Anne Auerbach
Ladies love language; cunning linguists we are, batting phrases around, pummeling sentences into submission, wantonly winding words. Visual artists identifying as women are not immune from the allure of text, and It Is Almost That is a collection of works by those for whom just a picture or a sentence is not enough.
Thoughtfully sequenced and elegantly reproduced in black, white, and shades of gray, the book includes works by artists I had no idea existed, works I have never seen by artists I am familiar with, and works by artists that I have forgotten about. There are 26 women included in this volume, and there is a very low proportion of stinkers, which is super impressive, given that I am terribly picky and rarely like anything at all.
Note the difference in the subtitle of this book between the “+” and the “&.” Sure looks odd to see them in the same phrase. Obviously, the plus and the ampersand are not interchangeable. It’s a good place to begin this book, which overall serves to remind us that text is super-specific, and when used well, can shake the foundations of the world. Sections on artists begin with a short introduction which provides context for the work, sometimes including writing from the artist, sometimes not. Reproductions from one work or series follows each intro. Impossible to really talk about this book without giving some examples of what’s inside. If I were to give out trophies and ribbons:
Home Team Top Spirit Award: Eleanor Antin, “Domestic Peace,” 1971-1972
A visit to Antin’s mother sparked this humorous series of drawings that represent their conversations during her stay. Antin worked to keep peace with her mother, whose expectations are not in line with the reality of Antin’s life. Ensuing conversations are depicted using line variations that represent different emotional states, including “bored,” “argumentative,” “hysterical,” and “civilized conversational.” A 55 minute conversation titled “Heard from Israel lately?” shows that Antin was mostly calm, and sometimes agitated, while her mother was mostly engaged in civilized conversation, that at times becomes argumentative. Keeping sane while visiting parents is important, and sometimes making an artwork can make this possible.
Deranged Pony Award: Sue Williams, “Are You Pro-Porn or Anti-Porn?” & Other Works, 1990-1992. Paintings about shit and sex, mostly in the vein of fucked-up. From this work, I learned the difference between a bitch and a slut.
Ironwoman Marathon Award: Fiona Banner, “The Nam,” 1997.
Banner watched six films about Vietnam and then wrote very factual descriptions of the films based on her viewings. “The Nam” is 1000 pages and photographs of a few of the printed pages of the book she made are reproduced here. The included pages contain no line breaks or paragraph insets, just solid blocks of a sans-serif typeface, all very monotone, but including some zingers like, “Then a load of blood yolks upwards.” Not sure if this is a typo or something maybe English people say. I’ve never heard about blood yolking, and I’m happy to start using this phrase.
Mr. Crowley Ribbon of Achievement: Suzanne Treister, “Alchemy,” 2007.
Drawings combine alchemical diagrams with front page news. The style is Crumb-esque, and since the front pages were chosen from English newspapers, there are some bare breasts. The universe works in mysterious ways.
People’s Choice Restaurant Ribbon: Helen Kim, “What Remains,” 2006
Another project about mothers and daughters having conversations. Kim’s mother is a lunch time napkin doodler, explaining herself through both words and images jotted down during meals. The photographs of empty plates after finished meals, along with the notes made by her mother on placemats and napkins, comprise this series of work.
Every artist in this book deserves a trophy, ribbon, or decorative cup.
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Reviewed by Lisa Anne Auerbach, Ed. Lisa Pearson, It Is Almost That: A collection of Image + Text Work by Women Artists & Writers, (Siglio, 2011)
Images: Cover of It Is Almost That: A collection of Image + Text Work by Women Artists & Writers and from Suzanne Treister, Alchemy, 2007 and Eleanor Antin, Domestic Peace, 1971-72.