Fabulas Feminae contains two dozen profiles of famous women in a collaborative book project created by Susan Bee and Johanna Drucker. These two distinguished artists have combined their talents to produce a work that is contemporary in tone, a minor monumental tribute to a diverse gallery of heroic women from across history. The text was composed using a natural language-processing technique that samples a large corpus and compresses it algorithmically, mirroring the sampling techniques of collage practice in the visual images. Strikingly designed, with bold blocks of text that echo the graphic features in the imagery, the result is a fresh, engaging, and informative poetic work of historical and critical expression.
Johanna Drucker is the Breslauer Professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. She has published and lectured widely on topics related to digital humanities and aesthetics, book history and future designs, historiography of the alphabet and writing, and more. She has been on the faculty at UT Dallas, Columbia, Yale, SUNY Purchase, and the University of Virginia, as well as visiting positions at Harvard University. A collection of her essays, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production appeared in the Harvard University Press MetaLab series in 2014. In addition to her academic work, Drucker has produced artist’s books and projects that were the subject of a retrospective, Druckworks: 40 years of books and projects, initiated at Columbia College in Chicago. In 2014 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Susan Bee is a painter, editor, writer, and book artist, who lives in New York City. In 2015, her photograms and altered photos from the 1970s were exhibited at Southfirst Gallery in Brooklyn. She has had seven solo shows at A.I.R. Gallery, NY, and a solo painting show at Accola Griefen Gallery in NY. Bee has published fourteen artist’s books. She has collaborated with writers including: Johanna Drucker, Susan Howe, and Charles Bernstein. Bee is the coeditor with Mira Schor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artist's Writings, Theory, and Criticism published by Duke University Press in 2000. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2014 and has had fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo. Bee teaches at Pratt Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.
Some day, one imagines, Susan Bee and Johanna Drucker will themselves appear as featured figures in a book like this one. For now, their revised martyrology presents a catalogue of some two-dozen new saints whose colorful lives appear in equally colorful spreads of condensed shaped text and eccentrically dispersed images. With their networked fields of iconic, schematic semiotics, these collaborations are fables of historiography itself. The result, predictably, is fabulous.
An homage to 25 legendary women through the centuries—from Susan B. Anthony to Susan Sontag, from Lizzie Borden to Lucille Ball—Fabulas Feminae is also a necessary intervention. When a famous life is over, the wild biography is often shaped to fit a tame narrative structure; Drucker and Bee use collage and algorithmic language processing to disrupt that pattern and make these lives wild again.
This book is a wonderful mixture of the scholarly, the feminist, the playful, and the girlish about fabulous women from his_(her)_story—queens, notorious assassins, novelists, sharp-shooters, divas, vanguard painters, suffragettes, comedic redheads, eccentric poets, visionary nuns, songstresses, saviors of their people by two fabulous feminists artists and fabulists Susan Bee and Johanna Drucker. It will appeal to and inspire readers of all ages. Bee’s rich, sprightly, dense collages and Drucker’s sculptural text design are as interesting as art as the algorithmically dissociated but completely comprehensible and thrilling text.