INTERVIEW & PUBLICATION

PUBLICATION
 

The publication Love Is Forever, Isn’t It? serves as an extension of the exhibition in collaboration with JRP|Editions. It features essays that delve into the concept of performativity, both in artistic terms and in the context of feminism and female sexuality. The book underscores the significance of Dorothy Iannone’s contributions to contemporary art within the international avant-garde while shedding light on the numerous acts of censorship that impacted her artistic journey. 

The book is set to be released in February 2024.


 

What would the world be without a woman's voice?

A conversation between Joanna Zielińska and Dorothy Iannone

Together with Dorothy Iannone, I shared a profound appreciation for the books.  I found myself captivated by her unique ability to intertwine images with words. Our initial connection started in 2020 through an email exchange that delved into discussions about her books, culinary interests, literature, and feminism. Unfortunately, we couldn't meet in her studio in Berlin due to circumstances at the time. Dorothy had a fondness for sending letters but seemed averse to making phone calls. The following conversation marked the beginning of the extraordinary journey I embarked upon with Dorothy until she unexpectedly passed away in 2022. 

Joanna Zielińska: I am curious about early artworks of yours and the evolution of the artistic form. How did erotic iconography become integrated into your visual language?

Dorothy Iannone: (...) My very first works from 1959 are abstract paintings as well as very detailed, but nonetheless, abstract drawings in black and white. In this period I also began my large oil on canvas abstract painting. Here you see my love of color and the emergence of my erotic iconography. When I painted two figures (at that time, my husband and myself in our bedroom) I also included their genitals. So from the very beginning of the presence of figures in my work, the genitals were present. And, as I have also written, the genitals were prominent :-) It seems that it was completely natural for me to include genitals when painting figures. I didn't think about it; I mean I never thought "Oh! Will this be OK" or "Will people be offended".  No, I just painted what I felt like making.  

JZ: Do your literary studies help your interest in artists' books?

DI: If I recall correctly, the well-known French publisher, Maurice Girodias, who was a friend of mine and of my husband, once asked me to make a book, unlike any book that had ever been made.  In a way, although it remained an original, that was my first artist's book (...) Perhaps "Story of Bern" is my first real artist book…  

JZ: In your work, you integrate images with words. The Story of Bern would be a good example. Did you take inspiration for your work from book illustrations or comic books then?

DI: The answer to that is No. I wanted to tell the story of what happened; what caused this terrible censorship of my works at the Friends' Exhibition, and the way which just naturally occurred to me was to combine our words with images of us. I had not looked at a comic book since I was just a little kid so it would be difficult to think they inspired me (…)  In one of my interviews with Maurizio Cattelan, I mentioned the floor covering in my playroom when I was a little girl.  It was a linoleum with nursery rhymes and images sort of corresponding to the words :-) And I speculated, half seriously, that it might have been already there that I learned to love the integration of words and images. 
The integration of image and text rose simultaneously and The Story of Bern was the outcome. (…) Another difference between comic books and, for instance, The Story of Bern or the Icelandic Saga is that in my work each page is taken up by only one image, not a multitude of images :-) If looked at it this way, then this is what we would call a drawing and not a comic book. The Icelandic Saga tells a story, not through dialogue and image as in The Story of Bern, but rather through the text. I have to mention that it is one of my favorite texts. :-) I'll try to work out here why I would not call the Saga "illustrations of a story":  Looking at the images now from my correspondence book Dorothy and Dieter: Their Correspondence in Words and Works (do you know that book?)  I see an enormous amount of text (of information, one could call it) on each page and then a relatively small single image. Well, that image is inspired by the spirit of the prose but does not really illustrate the prose in a comprehensive manner (too much information there to put into one little image).  The same could be said for The Berlin Beauties
Well, that's all that comes to mind, for now, on this theme except to mention that just now, looking through the Siglio book, I noticed on the dust jacket that, according to the author of a book on comics, my "work can be understood as parallel to the taboo-shattering underground comics of Robert Crumb" That was a surprise for me :-) especially because I didn't know his work till then.  Now I see that one of my Janis Joplin LP's was designed by him.

JZ: How have Buddhism and meditation changed your relationship with Eros and your own body?

DI: Well, actually it didn't change my feelings about the importance of Eros. I even thought that the description of enlightenment was very similar to the experience of the orgasm :-)  Here is what I wrote on the back cover of "Ewig Grün" my LP published by Tochnit Aleph, TA 128, 2015: “While contemplating my front cover, flowers and stars falling from the air, fireworks exploding in the sky, I suddenly realized I had painted a metaphor for the moment of orgasm, that fleeting moment when we are one with the true nature of our minds, that moment of ecstatic unity which can also be called enlightenment.”

JZ: How do you relate to the concept of women's art and the feminist art movement that emerged in the 60s?  Did you read female writers such as Julia Kristeva, and Helen Cixous among others?  Do you have an interest in female fiction writers?

DI: I had never heard of Julia Kristeva or Helen Cixous before!  Now I have read about them.  Although obviously, they were important, I think, even if I had known them in the 60s, I would not have been interested in their work, because I was following my own course. During the first news about the feminists, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and the most sympathetic, Germaine Greer, I did read their works (of course, I was always a fan of Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex!) but I didn't feel we were kindred spirits.  And I did not call myself a feminist. I remember in Copenhagen during one of my exhibitions, and before seeing the show, the feminists arrived, ready to picket the gallery, but after they went into the gallery and actually viewed the exhibition, they decided I was OK :-) and canceled the picketing.  
However, I did make some works in the early '70s which could be called feminist, for instance, "The Next Great Moment in History is Ours,"(images and text), "The White Goddess,"  (images and text), "Human Liberation" ("One arm for women, one arm for men, who, although they need it less, need it still.” ) And in the mid-'70s, I made the triptych with images, film, and text, "Follow Me"  which I now see as a feminist manifesto, although at that time, I did not label it.  
I was just working on whatever I felt like making and not thinking about categories. Another one of my works on this theme is "The White Goddess".  This book by Robert Graves, who truly loved women :-), was very important to me. Do you know it?  In one of the silkscreen prints I have included a poem addressed to Robert Graves: "Robert Graves, I have loved as much as you/ and died for it too. Or soon will/ But mine was a greater problem, I mean one that you have not explained/ Was I the artist or the muse, think on that, my dear Robert Graves," I have read that Graves' ideas about the White Goddess came to be known as Matriarchal Religion in the feminism of the 70s. In that period, I read other wonderful books such as "Myth, Religion and Mother Right" by J. J. Bachofen; "The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins"| by Robert Briffault, (just looking through it now, makes me want to read it again); and "The Great Mother" by Erich Neumann.
Regarding "female fiction writers":  I think in general I could say that it is not important to me if a book of fiction was written by a woman or a man.  It is the quality of the book which is important.  I have of course loved Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, and less well known but even mentioned in my "Cookbook" Christina Stead, or closer to our present time, I adore the novels of Elena Ferrante who wrote the wonderful "Neapolitan Quartet" (2012-2015) as much, for instance, as I love the works of Karl Ove Knausgaard who wrote the equally wonderful six volumes of "My Struggle." And a year or two ago, Florence recommended "Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation".  I fell in love with this book :-)

JZ: I believe that feminism embodies the fundamental principle of equality and sisterhood for all individuals. It's evident for me that your work strongly aligns with these ideas but I also understand that you don’t want to label your practice.

DI: Oh, I do agree with you: women should have the right to be happy and to live the way they want.  Absolutely. They don't have to wait to be formally allowed  those rights, they can just take them. I don't think I ever thought I could not do whatever I wished with my life :-)  Of course, I soon discovered there was a price to be paid. In my Censorship book, you will read more about this journey. You write that you believe Feminism is about supporting equality and sisterhood. Yes! women must have, for instance, the same wages for the same work.  Even today, half a century after the beginning of feminism, they still do not all have that!  And regarding sisterhood:  I do think there has been a definite relaxing in women's ability to embrace other women.  In the 60s, it seems to me, women were more reluctant, more afraid (didn't want to lose their husbands) to stand shoulder to shoulder with other women.  My personal experience was that women were far more disapproving of me, my being, and my work :-) then they are now.  In fact, now, it is women who, in general, are my greatest professional friends. I was thinking about your question regarding books by women. I do think that "The Neapolitan Quartet" by Elena Ferranti, could only have been written by a woman.  And the same is true for the novels of Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) or Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights). And "Out of Africa" by the incomparable Tania Blixen (Isaac Dinesen).  What would the world be without a woman's voice!

JZ: What about cooking?

DI: I would be happy to speak about cooking. (So this is how, in a sense, we met!) You know, when I was married to James in the '60s, I used to make a little menu drawing of what we were having for dinner every evening which I placed near his plate :-)  This is at a time when I was also making large works of art, painting every day, and cooking some tasty dish for James every evening :-) 

JZ: Is the cookbook you published based on memories?

DI: The cookbook is not based on specific memories. The remarks I make on each page sometimes include a memory but more often are thoughts that were going through my head as I was working on the book.  A memory might be the recipe of the dish Emmett cooked for me and my husband in our kitchen, for which I invented the name, "Emmett's Delight". The raison d'être of the book is, as you read in the introduction, simply my desire to be able to cook my favorite dishes for my beloved when I am with him on the road.
I once wrote several texts relating to memorable dinners with friends. Here is one I wrote regarding Robert Filliou which like all the others in this project has never been published:

Marianne and Robert Filliou spent a season in New York City in the late sixties.  A few days before their return to the South of France, I made a goodbye dinner for them at our house on 12th Street and invited a few other close friends. We dined on Beef Wellington, my dish for high occasions, accompanied by asparagus.  Even after the dessert (was it a Strawberry Bavarian Cream?) we continued sitting comfortably around the large Renaissance table and, as was our custom, drank and conversed intensely. When Robert switched from wine to whiskey, it wasn't long before he fell into a quiet slumber in his chair.  We knew that after a while he would wake up refreshed, and in the meantime, it was very cozy sitting peacefully all together. Marianne was moved to talk about her life with Robert and their six-year-old daughter, Marcelline.  At one point, she expressed longing for her wish to be married.  At that very instant, Robert woke from his sleep and said, to everyone's amazement and delight, and to Marianne's eternal satisfaction, "I'll marry you, Marianne!"  And, indeed, soon after their return to Villefranche they were married, and one could add, lived happily ever after.

Originally I intended to make drawings incorporating the texts, but for various reasons, this remains one of my unrealized projects waiting on my work table for me to finish someday.
I did check the page for Beef Wellington in A Cookbook today and I see by coincidence, the dialogue is about marriage!  This was, of course, not the Robert-Marianne story that took place in New York City while I was living with my husband; it was the dialogue between Dieter Roth and me during the time we were living together in Düsseldorf and I told him I had changed my mind and no longer wanted to get married. Then he made me promise not to marry anyone else :-)  Also, the line "I'm keeping this page legible for you Rita" and "Hello Richard" refer to Richard Hamilton and his partner Rita Donagh for whom I had made Beef Wellington when Dieter and I were living in London, and Rita had said she would love to have the recipe.  

JZ: Could you tell me a bit more about your friendship with Fluxus artists? Especially with Robert Filliou.

DI: Robert was one of the dearest friends of my life, and Marianne and Marceline, their child, are also among my dearest friends. It was Robert who introduced me to Emmett Williams with whom my husband and I made the journey to Reykjavik to meet his great friend, Dieter Roth. And you know what happened after that :-)  
For my DAAD (Berlin Artists Program) catalog, "Follow Me", Robert wrote: ". . . For many years now, Dorothy Iannone has been investigating through her visual work, her books, and her records, the world of love and loving styles. In her original (re)-search, she skillfully blends imagery and text, beauty and truth. She is a freedom-fighter and a forceful and dedicated artist.  Her aim is no less than human liberation ..."
I don't remember if you know the Fluxus Essay?  There I have written about how I met each of my Fluxus friends and what dishes we made for each other when we first met  (ie Daniel Spoerri received my husband and me in Paris with beef testicles in a cream sauce and a cucumber salad :-), and Robert and Marianne in Villefranche-sur-Mer with what Robert called "Danish Hamburgers" made by Marianne who was indeed Danish.   
I received Robert and Marianne and Marceline in Cap D'Antibes with escalopes panées and my paintings). 

JZ: Have you ever engaged in performances as part of your work? Your work seems to be highly performative, exuding liveliness itself.

DI: Regarding your question about my "performances":  I have rarely made a "performance", in the usual sense of the word. Once in Berlin, though, I did. Tomorrow I will look in my archives and find a copy of the poster which I made for this event and send you a copy. In general, I would say that my "performances" have all been spontaneous, unplanned events in public where I stood up and sang or spoke, responding to the situation which was taking place at that moment.  Next weekend I will be reading The Concept of Ecriture Feminine in Helen Cixous's "The Laugh of the Medusa" which has arrived. 

So, dear Joanna, for now, that's it!

 

 

Portrait of Dorothy Iannone. © All rights reserved