Book Review: Intimates and Fools by Laura Madeline Wiseman & Sally Deskin
|Intimates and Fools
Poems by Laura Madeline Wiseman
Art by Sally Deskin
|Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014
In the collaborative project Intimates and Fools, we learn 1950s’ “sex symbol,” Marilyn Monroe, slept in her bra. This is the same woman who said “beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived, and glamour, although the manufacturers won’t like this, cannot be manufactured. Not real glamour; it’s based on femininity.” It seems, in the face of beauty, our actions fail to reflect our beliefs. As Wiseman and Deskins quote from The Great Gatsby, the desire for glamour spins us into “the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” In this project, two women de-lace, unhook, and regular wash a culture’s notion of femininity. The hope becomes such: beauty free from foolishness.
The bra is a two-fold symbol. A bra, in its function, simultaneously reveals while it supports, holds back. Therefore, a bra has the ability to show and suppress sexuality. This dual purpose complicates the bra’s function, and thus, a woman’s concept of beauty. As the subject of the work, the bra as object effortlessly opens up a critique, or more accurately, a worry about the stereotypes of femininity.
Wiseman’s speaker personifies bras. They are rational, for “They want to know why I’m setting them aside for the goodwill, why I refuse to slide them on, why they aren’t worthy…” This voice humanizes, sheds the hyper-sexuality we often superimpose. However, this personification still feels slightly problematic. The humanization, while rational, sounds silly, cartoon-like. More so, the humanization raises the bra’s importance to an uncomfortable level. A materialistic object, it seems, should never hold that much value. But perhaps discomfort is the point.
The strongest, most powerful moments in the narrative come from the outside perspective. In contrast to the speaker’s sweet compliment to her sister, the outside world objectifies the speaker. They “said to me: Look at the white girl with big tits. Dirty Pillows, said Stephen King. and Mr. T, What’chu talking about, Fool?” I’m uncomfortable again, but here it feels purposeful, so I welcome it.
The script-like text in Intimates and Fools tilts down, across, and sometimes around the page. It weaves in conversation with the artwork. The variation of text placement adds movement to the page. The artwork is vibrant and varied. On the first page we are met with abstract, deep colored orbs. The watercolor is imperfect, messy and disconnected. The bras are uncharacteristically beautiful. These abstract, imperfect art pieces visually demonstrate Wiseman’s narrative: beauty is not one form, one color, or one size. These pieces contrast the smaller, more concrete and clear images of bras. These small drawings seem unfit to sit in tandem to the abstract. The most obvious contrast occurs towards the end of the collaboration. On the left sits a frilled, single-colored conned bra reminiscent of Madonna. Above are the words “I’m not a fool.” On the opposite page, the art explodes, extends its figure to embody the torso, the roundness of the cups, the multi-colored body. Below, “I’m a survivor.” And it’s here, in boldest of contrasts, I’m convinced, fully, that I’d rather survive too.