When I first heard that boobs, bums, willies and acts of masturbation mischieviously fly out in the work of octogenarian American artist Dorothy Iannone, I must admit I was curious. She has been compared to Tracey Emin as the ultimate bad girl, the real definition of a minx, and this is her first retrospective show in the UK.
However, upon viewing these really wonderful pieces, which, in my opinion, bear very little relation to the work of Tracey Emin, I saw these as intensely soulful works that transcended sex in the way we see it in the vernacular. They seem pertinent to culture today precisely because I believe they stand out in sharp contrast to contemporary notions of sex. Iannone offers a fresh (pun unintended but appropriate) view by presenting us with notions of spirituality and transcendence through sexual union. Hers is a celebration of unconditional love. She is playful, she is mischievous, she is adorable, charming and funny. And she just wants what we all want really want but are often too afraid to admit: love. And for that she is ready to go to ultimate lengths.
The retrospective spans work from the sixties to the present and is visually seductive for all its colours and graphic psychedelic sprays across her canvases, cut-outs and video boxes. Shagging couples are incorporated with biomoprphic patterns, stars, flowers and textual notations of feelings to form scintillating compositions that invite the viewer into her experience. Sometimes you just can’t help but giggle, for example, I stood in front of a painted video box showing the artist’s face on the monitor only to realize moments later that she was masturbating in front of me. At other times, with heartfelt proclamations such as “the next great moment in history is ours” or, ”If it would have happened it would have been like this”, I had to stifle a few tears.
The contemporary works are painted cut-outs mounted on wood, depicting scenes from films about unconditional love or about the sacrifice of ones’s happiness for the beloved. Here she illustrates her version of movies such as the Piano, the Sheltering Sky, The Last Train, Morocco, Brokeback Mountain, Lolita, and the Eye of the Needle, with excruciatingly heartfelt text.
These are about a timeless embrace, and also about an equalization of gender, for there are no dominant figures, often rendered by reversing and sometimes merging genitalia, or women who tell their men: “sometimes you must also submit” or “wiggle your ass for me”. It defies generally accepted paradigms about sexuality portraying Jung’s notion of anima/animus: the recognition of male and female aspects that reside in the same being. The attempt to achieve this balance is an essential aspect of this work and this philosophy, and is key to finding peace and harmony. In the act of sex and love, Iannone says “I begin to feel free”.
WORDS AND MAIN PHOTO (Detail): KAREN GARRATT
Second photo: Installation view of Dorothy Iannone ‘Innocent and Aware’ at Camden Arts Centre, 2013. Photo: Andy Keate © Camden Arts Centre
Camden Arts Centre. Until May 5