It is Almost That: A Collection of Image + Text Work by Women Artists & Writers

by Lisa Perason (Siglio)

This anthology isn’t a collection of comics, or of art that has a narrative in any traditional sense. Rather these are all pieces of fine art made in a variety of media, from photographs to artist’s books to engravings. But all the pieces — some of which are reproduced in their entirety, others as excerpts — combine text and image to tell a kind of story. As editor Lisa Pearson writes in her afterword, “…texts do not always appear on pristine white fields; images are not illustrative and language does not explain; stories do not unfold in predictable ways—and yet every page is meant to be read.”

Twenty six works are represented. All are arresting, though some appear simple at first. Dorothy Iannone’s mid-70s-era “Trixie, the Connoisseur” seems to be a simple comic-in-panels, but it tells the story of an extraordinary woman whose life and love become liberated, almost to the point of personal reinvention. The artist’s biography informs us that her work is inspired by her male lover, who serves as a muse.

A few pieces are experiments, such as Eleanor Antin’s “Domestic Peace,” for which she drew graphs of conversations with her mother that indicate their subjects and corresponding levels of agitation. The concept is funny but the execution is drolly serious serious and looks, on the page, like a sound-wave readout, as though she’s made a legitimate scientific study of domestic survival. One especially appealing project, in both concept and execution, is Suzanne Triester’s “Alchemy” piece, for which she transcribed the words and images from front pages of several UK newspapers, in all their trashy gossip mongering, and translated them visually into the style of 17th and 18th-century alchemical diagrams. The result is complex and beautiful to look at, and makes disturbing suggestions about the huge (but not so cosmic) forces at work in our lives.

The book includes lesser-known or previously unpublished works by important artists, including Bernadette Mayer and Lousie Borgeouis. At least one has historical importance: In 1968, Fluxus artist Alison Knowles used the Fortran programming language to produce “A House of Dust,” which is thought to be the first computer-generated poem. Most are by less famous creators, though none are especially young — with the exception of thirty-something Molly Springfield, whose exciting project speaks to the of-the-moment tension between machine reproduction and things written by hand. Using every English translation of the first chapter of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (called Swann’s Way) — which of course deals with memory and translation —Springfield transcribed the pages by hand, replicating the look of a printed book with photorealistic drawings in 1:1 scale.

Toward the book’s end is “Docking Competitions” by Erica Van Horn and Laurie Clark, which pairs tiny, delicate line drawings with unembellished contest descriptions (“The competition will be for the prettiest hanky”, “The competition will be for The Longest Stick of Rhubarb”). This study and repetition of the mundane makes a revelation of the day-to-day details of female domestic experience. On the whole this is an important collection, imagination-stretching and educational even for readers who think they know women artists.

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“Docking Competitions” feels feminist in a few ways. Artists Erica Van Horn and Laurie Clark have paired tiny, delicate line drawings with unembellished descriptions of contests organized by the Women’s Section of the Royal British Legion. These include “The competition will be for the prettiest hanky” and “The competition will be for The Longest Stick of Rhubarb.” The repetitive nature of the text draws attention to a certain  tedium of these lives, but the drawings are so charming, so lovingly made, it’s hard to read the piece as critical. It’s more like a combination of second-wave consciousness-raising and third-wave wit.