The Female Gaze on TV: Chris Kraus and Jill Soloway on the Adaptation of ‘I Love Dick’
artnet News spoke to the writer and the director on bringing the worlds of art and academia to the masses.
The wait is finally over. If you enjoyed the pilot of I Love Dick which aired on Amazon Prime Video last August—and even more so if you voted for turning it into a full series—you’ll be glad to know that the streaming service is releasing the entire first season this Friday, May 12.
artnet News got a sneak peek at some of the episodes and can confirm that all that was promised in the pilot has been delivered: the series contains explicit sex, in-the-know inclusions of art and theory, and hilariously cringe-worthy scenarios—art related, and otherwise.
The series, directed by Transparent and Afternoon Delight creator Jill Soloway, is a witty adaptation of Chris Kraus’s eponymous novel, which tells the real story of her infatuation with an academic named Dick, and how she turned this unrequited love into a groundbreaking exploration of female desire, the invisibility of women in art and academia, and the elasticity of art criticism—with the willing participation of her then-husband, French theorist Sylvère Lotringer.
Did Kraus, who’s credited as a consultant in the production, ever dream of her debut novel being turned into a TV series?
“Never on this scale, although two directors have already staged separate adaptations in New York. In 2009, the director Casey Llewellyn adapted and staged it at Barnard, and the actress/director Leslie Mohn adapted and staged it for Mabou Mines at PS1 in New York a few years before that,” Kraus told artnet News in an email.
“I saw both productions, and I was thrilled—then as now. It was like seeing someone else’s art work that’s distantly related, but doesn’t have much to do with me. Since Hedi El Kholti, the managing editor of Semiotext(e), decided to republish the book in 2006, it’s taken on a new life, been picked up especially by younger women, and moved more into the mainstream.”
In the TV adaptation, the astutely crafted script does justice to the original material and the cast shines in its own right. Kathryn Hahn delivers a brilliant Kraus, Griffin Dunne is highly watchable as the American version of Sylvère, and Kevin Bacon triumphs as the beguilingly aloof and unavailable Dick.
What did it feel like to see these events brought to the screen? “Even though I’d scrupulously closed the door on any connection between myself and Sylvère, and the ‘Chris and Sylvère’ in the book many years ago, I’ve got to admit, seeing Kathryn Hahn and Griffin Dunne speaking some of our lines was exhilarating!,” Kraus told artnet News.
“As soon as I wrote the third-person narration that opens the book, I’d turned us into characters, but seeing those characters played by such incredibly gifted actors is fantastic. Hahn, Dunne, and Bacon have such presence and subtlety, and all of Jill’s work makes the best possible use of her actors.”
The novel was first published in 1997, and for almost two decades remained somewhat of a cult read, turning Kraus into a role model that empowered and enabled a generation of female writers who wanted to explore, push, and blend the genres of fiction, memoir, and cultural criticism on their own terms.
The heights reached by I Love Dick, however, remain unparalleled, perhaps because of its unique humor, its abundance of tenderness and empathy, and because Kraus was never afraid to reveal the darker, weaker recesses of herself, bordering on abjection.
“I discovered I Love Dick for the first time after Sarah Gubbins handed me the New Yorker article by Leslie Jamison, This Female Consciousness: On Chris Kraus. I read it and felt like I’d uncovered a secret national feminist treasure,” Soloway told artnet News.
“How had Chris Kraus been kept from us for so long? This was surely due to some sneaky-patriarchal conspiracy to disempower the Goddess. The book had enjoyed a certain cult status since its release, but this is a story that needs to be re-introduced to our world. In the book’s introduction, Eileen Myles states that I Love Dick gives birth to the ‘female gaze’ in literature. I chose to adapt it in order to help explore the ‘female gaze’ in television.”
Besides celebrating the female gaze, the novel and series both cast a piercing look at the—sometimes ridiculous—worlds of art and academia.
In that vein, the eight episodes that form the full first season—directed, by turns, by Soloway and a cluster of illustrious female directors, including Andrea Arnold, of American Honey and Fish Tank, and Kimberly Peirce, of Boys Don’t Cry—contain clips of video works and films by female artists including Cheryl Donegan, Carolee Schneemann, and Chantal Akerman.
“The film clips we’ve woven into our episodes are visceral. They evoke emotion. They are tiny glimpses of feminist gems that, like Chris Kraus’s novel, have been kept out of mainstream media,” Soloway told artnet News.
“In a way we’re also introducing an entire artist community and culture of Marfa to viewers who don’t even know it exists. I Love Dick is giving audiences a peek into worlds they’ve never seen before and hoping it’ll spark a desire to seek out more of those worlds.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Bacon’s Dick reads almost like a parody of all the macho artists that have dominated the history of American art in the second half of the 20th century, a sort of mélange of Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Robert Smithson.
As part of the cast we also find India Menuez, an actress and model that besides roles in acclaimed feature films like Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and Morgan Saylor’s White Girl, also appears in contemporary artworks, for example in performances by artist Donna Huanca, and paintings by John Currin.
In terms of art credentials, it seems that Soloway got it right. But will she be able to bring contemporary art to the streaming masses? Will she be able to succeed where many others before her have failed?
“I think she just might pull it off. Jill is no stranger to the art world. She’s a close friend of Eileen Myles, and she had the excellent sense of hiring [curator] Helen Molesworth as an art consultant to the series,” Kraus told artnet News.
“I’ve never understood why these cheesy film and TV depictions of the art world pretend that the art world is so different from the world of TV and film: like any creative enterprise, they share the same mixture of ambition, hope, generosity, vision, hierarchical structure, and petty cruelties.”
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