“The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” and “Testimony against Gertrude Stein”
We’re big fans of Diane Samuels, so we’re very happy to feature her again. Below she fills us in on ”The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” and “Testimony against Gertrude Stein”: Using shades of red and pink ink, Samuels hand-transcribed the entire volume of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas onto paper handmade in the United States and coated with hybrid rose petals. Interspersed in purple ink, she hand-transcribed a counter-text—the “Testimony against Gertrude Stein” written by Georges Braque, Eugene Jolas, Marie Jolas, Henri Matisse, André Salmon and Tristan Tzara—objecting to their portrayal by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography.
In July of 2010 I was invited to participate in Gertrude’s/LOT, the Andy Warhol Museum’s component of the Pittsburgh Biennial. Eric Shiner (Director/Curator) wrote:
Once home to such cultural luminaries as Mary Cassatt, Willa Cather, Martha Graham, and Gertrude Stein, today’s Pittsburgh continues to produce and/or play home to some of the most talented women artists in the nation. For the Pittsburgh Biennial 2011 [opened on 9/17/11], The Warhol will assemble an exhibition dedicated to these great artists whose work aims at transgressing boundaries and engendering transformative change in an apparent nod to Stein and her important life’s work. Artists included in the show either currently live or work in Pittsburgh, or once spent a period of many years here. Works included will span all media and will aim to challenge and provoke the status quo.
For several years, I had been thinking about working with Gertrude Stein’s writing. She was born on February 3, 1874, at 850 Beech Avenue—only a few blocks from where I live in Pittsburgh. Her family lived there for about six months before moving to Vienna.
In trying to decide which of Gertrude Stein’s works I would choose for the project, I started with The Making of Americans. What makes an American is a question close to home. I live on a small alley that was originally populated by immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Since 2004 it has been the home to several exiled writers in the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh project.
I had previously made a work using the text of Leaves of Grass. Living in the United States, Whitman was someone who reached out to incorporate the world across space and time. I thought that The Making of Americans would be an interesting shift in point of view, to that of an American living out of America, looking in.
Several years ago, my husband bought a pamphlet at auction called “Testimony against Gertrude Stein,” published in February of 1935 as a supplement to the magazine Transition, run by Marie and Eugene Jolas. The supplement included contributions of texts from Georges Braque, Eugene Jolas, Marie Jolas, Henri Matisse, André Salmon and Tristan Tzara. All objected to their portrayal by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Because of the pamphlet, I decided to start working on Gertrude Stein with Alice B. Toklas.
The anecdotal, gossipy, descriptions of often very mundane events, peppered with now-famous names, paint Parisian life before, during, and after World War I. Coupling The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas with its anti-text, “Testimony against Gertrude Stein,” presents an a timelessness oddly similar to that of the gods in Greek myths—pettiness, greatness and hyper-sensitivities all intertwined.
Since Alice B. Toklas is written by Gertrude Stein pretending to be Alice B. Toklas, her life partner, I began by joining two 23” x 46” pieces of handmade Abaca paper, made by my friend Kathryn Clark’s company Twinrocker. I then coated the joined paper with pulverized hybrid rose petals (“rose is a rose is a rose”) from my roof garden. I began on June 13, 2011.
I decided to hand-write out The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in small script, in a rose-like and (as a friend pointed out) a run-on sentence-like clockwise spiral, using varying shades of pink ink. In a darker ink color, I interspersed the counter-texts from “Testimony against Gertrude Stein,” which dispute and deprecate Stein’s version of events, in those places where the disputed sections occur in The Autobiography…
Alice B. Toklas explains Gertrude Stein’s use of her famous line “rose is a rose is a rose” on page 150 of the 1933 edition of The Autobiography (John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd.). She “writes”: “Speaking of the devise of rose is a rose is a rose, it was I who found it in one of Gertrude Stein’s manuscripts and insisted upon putting it as a device on letter paper, on the table linen and anywhere she would permit that I would put it.”
Far left: the section written by André Salmon in “Testimony against Gertrude Stein.” It objects to Stein’s portrayal of him.
Far right: The handwriting in purple ink is the transcription of Henri Matisse’s objection to the way Madame Matisse is portrayed in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Gertrude Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in six weeks. I hand-transcribed the work in 137 hours.
Near Left: This is the part where Tristan Tzara writes about Stein describing herself as a “genius.”
Finished on the table (August 18, 2011), 46’ x 46’ x (about) 6”
Left: The front face of the book box has the beginning of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and “Testimony against Gertrude Stein” hand-transcribed as the title.
Center: Inside book box, a first edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd., 1933) and “Testimony against Gertrude Stein” published as a supplement to the magazine Transition, February, 1935.
Right: The jump drives are attached on the top of the book box. They contain 137 hours of audio of Diane Samuels reading and transcribing The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and “Testimony against Gertrude Stein”.♦
Diane Samuels’ work “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” and “Testimony against Gertrude Stein” is in Gertrude’s/LOT at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. She has built site-specific artworks in the United States and Germany: a memorial garden in Grafeneck, Germany; Luminous Manuscript at the Center for Jewish History in New York and Lines of Sight, at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Luminous Manuscript was included in Judith Dupré’s Monuments: America’s History in Art and Memory (Random House, 2007). Samuels holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; serves on the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and is co-founder the City of Asylum Pittsburgh.
Diane Samuels is represented by the Kim Foster Gallery in New York.
Photographers: Thomas Little, Laura Mustio