LA REVIEW OF BOOKS
What does it mean when we do it like this?
ALL BUT ONE of the recommendations on the book jacket of Dorothy Iannone: You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends (Siglio Press, 2014) are written by women, most around 50 years younger than the dauntless artist who is the book’s subject. Michelle Tea, who once wrote a novel in which a tough-girl uses a tampon as a weapon (Rose of No Man’s Land, 2006), likens reading Dorothy Iannone (b. 1933, Boston) to joining a “conspiracy of beauty and romantic obsession.” Ariana Reines, who muses about women who are “beyond themselves” in the same book-length poem in which she describes hacking into an ex’s email account (Coeur de Lion. 2nd ed. Albany, New York: Fence Books, 2011), says Iannone will “lead us out of the labyrinth, then let us share in her bliss.” Blurbs are supposed to be hopelessly enthusiastic but there’s something particularly telling about the slant that these take, presenting Iannone as a conspiratorial leader, a kind of liberator. The younger women want her to guide them to a place where patriarchy is nothing more than a distraction, and amorousness and inquisitiveness both have respected status.
The book includes paintings, drawings, and text from four decades of Iannone’s life as an artist. Like an artists’ book or graphic novel, it is intended to be experienced not as a record of production but as a work of its own. The book’s editor and the founder of Siglio Press, Lisa Pearson, previously included Iannone in Siglio’s 2011 book It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers. Pearson told me that, working on that volume, she realized that Iannone’s art and artists’ books were difficult to find — and to read (Iannone’s handwritten text can be challenging to make out in reproduction). The first major museum retrospective on Iannone’s work opened February 2014, at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin (she’s had smaller shows, such as at the New Museum in 2009), so there aren’t many exhibition catalogs available, either.
Pearson assembled the book thematically rather than chronologically, providing a cohesive arc to the ideas. It begins with Iannone’s autobiographical story of awakening, An Icelandic Saga, followed by her experimental cookbook, the tarot-card-like Ten Scenes, and a fictional story about brothers whose domineering father turns them into wispy, white-haired girls. Though a brief introduction by Pearson opens the book and an involved essay by poet-writer Trinie Dalton ends it, no commentary interrupts the presentation of Iannone’s art. The borders around the text are thin and the page numbers are included on the sides, so as not to intrude on the content. Because the book does not seem to be about but of Iannone, it presents an ideal opportunity to ask: Why does the 82-year-old artist feel so relevant and sage-like to women decades younger? What is she offering that we feel we need?