It Is Almost That: “A riot grrrl literary arts mix-tape”

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August 22nd, 2013

 

(Review) It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers

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What It Do, Girl: The Image+Text Feminism of It Is Almost That

NICKY TISO

Originally published July 22, 2013

 

An exemplification of its mission to publish uncommon books that “live at the intersection of art & literature,” Siglio’s It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers (hereafter referred to as ITAT for short) reads like a riot grrrl literary arts mix-tape: nearly 300 pages of carefully reproduced text, photo, collage, sculpture, early computer print-outs, graphic notations, maquettes for slide projection, and more, of 28+ image+text artists from across the globe. Designed as a wunderkammer, this is not an anthology but an eclectic collection, “ungoverned by chronology, an alphabet, or a list of subjects,” says the editor Lisa Pearson in her afterword. Instead, the sequencing is structured so that “conversations” can emerge between the works themselves, yielding many narrative possibilities. In laymen’s terms, it’s fun to flip through.

Every time I open it I see a new connection. Take, for instance, the way the graphic illustration of Shari DeGraw’s line of little trees on pages 226-227 weaves into Ann Hamilton’s concordance on page 230 with subtle continuity (see picture below). Another thread is the durational quality of certain artworks, such as Eleanor Antin’s “Domestic Peace,” a notational map of conversations carried on with her mother for 17 days, and Susan Hiller’s “Ten Months,” which photographically tracks her stomach as it grows during pregnancy, depicting “a means of making actual what is potential” (175). Much of the included art dates from the 70’s, a major decade of feminist art, when many artists boldly challenged misogynistic attitudes towards the female body. A section from Cozette de Charmoy’s 1973 “The True Life of Sweeney Todd,” which collages reptilian parts in less than appropriate ways onto illustrations from the 19th century Illustrated London News, offers a perverse sense of anatomy augmented by unusual devices. The more recent work of the 1990’s has a formalistic remove from bodily exhibition, suggesting an aesthetic turn towards abstraction over confrontation.

Adrian Piper’s 1979-1981 “Political Self-Portraits” mischievously opens the collection by framing the direct gaze of a bi-racial face to challenge our epistemology of sight (how we judge race based on skin tone). The self-portraits’ charged captioning—self-portrait exaggerating my negroid features—appear as a more personal antecedent to Barbara Kruger’s scandalizing text installations of the 80’s. By contrast, Fiona Banner’s meta-novel “The Nam” and Molly Springfield’s photorealistic drawings of translations of Swann’s Way (this double remove intentional), highlight “the materiality of language” craze of the 90’s brought about by Derrida. These two works foreground the techne of reproduction over the originality of the content, redefining the concept of authorship.

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