Love Novellas

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Love Novellas is a series of eight “audio portraits” by artist and educator Jerri Allyn.[1] It was presented as an audio art installation at Franklin Furnace in 1983 and was published as an artist book and cassette tape.[2] For the performance at Western Front, Allyn performs a selection of excerpts from the book in a modest scene: a red curtain and an open grand piano provide a backdrop to the single spotlight and a mic stand at centre stage. Allyn enters from the side, wishes the audience “good evening,” and reads until a short intermission interrupts at the halfway point. From the start, the reading is made to feel estranged by Allyn’s playing of a pre-recorded tape of the same reading in tandem with the live performance. The two voices run parallel to each other and sometimes overlap, competing for the viewer’s attention, and coming in and out of focus. The subsequent echoing effect is mildly disorienting, oscillating between stream of consciousness and scripted speech. At different points throughout the reading, each voice has an opportunity to stand alone, and complementary sound effects build a cinematic tone.

Love Novellas is recited from the point of view of a queer female character, aged 31, who is living in New York and suffering from a broken heart. The text has an informal conversational quality to it, despite moving at a frenetic pace. The script is peppered with humour and covers a vast array of serious subjects, retold through lived experiences and anecdotes, including marriage, political apathy, war, love, death, feminism, vegetarianism, smoking, waitressing, workplace harassment, and queer life. Issues around women’s labour, sexual harassment, and queer subjectivities are a recurrent theme in the artist’s work, as well as their relationship to the construction of identity, the performativity of language, and the representation of violence.

One of Allyn’s most notable projects is her participation in the collaborative performance group The Waitresses (1977-1985), which she co-founded with artist Anne Gauld.[3] The two met in 1977 in the Women’s Building at the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW) in Los Angeles, and assembled a group of women with waitressing experience to “[focus] on five issues: work; money; sexual harassment; food production; and stereotypes of women/waitresses—mother, servant, sex object.” [4] The group staged events in public spaces such as restaurants, galleries, labor conferences, parades, buses, and in the streets “as ethnographic studies of women’s places in history.”[5] Allyn continues to be active as a community-based artist with an interest in public engagement and collaborating in and across art settings, academia and other communities.[6]

1 – Allyn, Jerri. Love Novellas: 8 Audio Portraits Artist Book and Cassette. New York, NY: Printed Matter, 1983.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Allyn, Jerri, Anne Gauldin, Suzanne Lacy, and Marlena Doktorczyk-Donahue. The Waitresses Unpeeled: Performance Art and Life. Los Angeles, CA: Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, 2011.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Montano, Linda M. Performance Artists Talking in the Eighties Talking in the Eighties. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.
6 – Allyn, Jerri. “Jerri Allyn.” Jerri Allyn. Accessed April 2018.

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Original Archive Entry:

Live voice with multilayered audiotape of other voices and music.