how my friend Carolee Schneemann transformed art

how my friend Carolee Schneemann transformed art

how my friend Carolee Schneemann transformed art

Carolee Schneemann was born in 1939 in Pennsylvania, USA. Her father, a doctor, gave her a first introduction to her body and viscera. She received a scholarship from Bard College at 16 and left to study in New York, ending up at Columbia. “I had never found a precedent for female artists in the art history books at my disposal,” Schneemann said in 2017.

Schneemann has worked for many years honing his multimedia practice. This included performances, film, photography and painting, exemplified by the 1963 photo series Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for the Camera, in which she is photographed naked and covered with paint, glue, fur, snakes and feathers, seer and sight together.

Despite a full body of work and writings, representation and recognition in the gallery eluded Schneemann for much of his life. However, she never stopped creating, always engaged in politics, challenging the limits of the physical body and the mind’s eye. Body Politics, the UK’s first survey of Schneemann’s work, opens on Thursday at the Barbican in London. Below, novelist Stephanie La Cava remembers his friendship with the artist.


A painting comes to life. Daphne, nearly 20, dressed in black with a white apron skirt. Her manager is Carolee Schneemann, post-operative at home in New Paltz, New York. There are actually two Carolees: one in the mirror next to her bed. The young woman takes care of the other, wrapping her leg in the mummy’s gauze. There are flowers; a transistor radio plays in the background. On the duvet, surgical scissors and open boxes of hospital dressing.

This is the scene where I meet Carolee for the first time in March 2017. I drove from New York with a friend to start recording an oral story, an interview that will come out at the same time as the American retrospective of her multimedia works. The second session was four months later. I took the bus, raspberries had appeared in the courtyard and a copy of Clarice Lispector’s collected work on the covered nightstand. Her tablecloth had belonged to the artist and writer Kathy Acker; she was one of her skirts.

My relationship with Carolee very quickly became personal. I’m not sure why she liked her, or even if she really liked her, but we would stick with her until her death two years later. For some time we talked about her on the phone every other week. Even when she was frustrated with me, she would ask me, “And are you writing?” It wasn’t a kindness, but a reminder of priority.

I went to Venice when Carolee received the Lifetime Achievement Award. He was a knight; I didn’t really have a seat there, but she welcomed me. The morning after the ceremony, we sat in her hotel room with a painted Venetian lion mask. She said she preferred it to her hood ornament she had given her: the Golden Lion statuette.

A year later, I would have a small party for the publication of a book of uncollected texts by Carolee edited by art historian Branden W Joseph. She liked her to be held in a loft like the one she shared with her first partner, composer James Tenney, in New York in the 1960s. When she moved in, she held what she called her “debutante party” downtown. It ended with knocked holes in the walls. Shortly thereafter, she would perform at one of Claes Oldenburg’s performances on the Lower East Side. Her role: to stab a wall for endless nights.

Related: Carolee Schneemann’s obituary

This was not an achievement for Carolee. She was not an actress, but an active creator, an agent of her own. While living in New York, she founded the Judson Dance Theater along with other artists such as Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown. Her pioneering performances in kinetic theater took shape as she honed a practice that included film, photography, sculpture and writing. However, she has always considered herself a painter.

“Schneemann’s unique contribution to art history and to painting in particular was literally that of drawing the eye returns to the body it sees: both the body’s inextricable connection with what you see and its role in determining the nature of what you see, ”writes art historian Kristine Stiles. Carolee’s workspace was off the canvas and included her real life.

And that too was a trick. A creator of images and images, Carolee was hyper-aware of creating her own art historical documentation. This, in part, is why Carolee welcomed me into her home that first day, just a week after surgery on her leg; it was a live painting that she was waiting for me. After Daphne finished work, Carolee pointed to the garbage, smiling, head down. She warned me about the name of the medical bandage: “avant gauze”.

Carolee left New York City in 1964 to move to the 18th century farmhouse in New Paltz, where I visited them. The house would become inextricable with much of her work. Her study of her and her refuge, it was here that she made her famous exploration of the external-internal and egalitarian exchange of intimacy in a heterosexual relationship, the 16mm experimental film Fuses. For three years, she would film herself and Tenney making love from various angles, a particular shot achieved by hanging the camera from a chandelier. The camera is intended to capture the point of view of one of her beloved cats, Kitch. Carolee painted and baked the film itself, which is then full of paint and scratches. It is sensual and erotic, it shows its creator engaged in a very human and shared love.

It is not, however, hardcore pornography, which caused outrage among male critics when it was screened at Cannes. They couldn’t understand why it didn’t include the predictable titillations. Carolee wanted, she said, “to see what fuck it is, and identify it in terms of a lived sense of equity ”. It will be part of the Barbican show.

“We must remind ourselves that in the 1960s only men retained creative authority: women were muses, partners,” writes Carolee. This distills how it first surfaces in my first book, The Superrationals, as a feminist inversion of the male artist / muse relationship. She and Fuses loom over my most recent book, I’m afraid you care about my pain. The network of cultural operators, the woman hypnotized by her body and her needs. Her traffic is haptic, sensual about her. The experience of having been devalued by the male gaze. Writing as a performance: the awakening of the politician.

Carolee is perhaps best known for her first two pieces of kinetic theater: Meat Joy and Interior Scroll. Meat Joy premiered in Paris in 1964: Marcel Duchamp called it the most disordered work of art that France has ever seen. Eight nearly naked men and women, including Carolee, roll around with paint, paper, raw chicken, and fish. “Expansion of physical energy – out of the canvas” is how Carolee explained living sculpture.

A decade later, she went out to an audience in East Hampton, New York, wrapped in a sheet, which fell off revealing only an apron. She had to read from her book Cézanne, she was a great painter. After painting her body with a dark pigment, she proceeded to extract a scroll from her vagina. (He also read a piece that appeared to be addressed to a male critic, a “happy man / structural director.” This text would become the scroll in the second version of Interior Scroll, performed at the Telluride film festival in 1977.) condensed reads:

(From parchment 1 🙂

To waste time
Your distorted intentions
The simplest relationships in your thoughts
To be used and used incorrectly …

They will protect you, they will indulge you
Try sleeping with you who want to transform them
With your energy
They will withdraw your energy

Carolee’s work has always been centered on energy: its exchange, its creation, its circulation. A haptic, sensual, very feminine realm.

(From parchment 2 🙂

You are charming / but don’t ask us to watch your movies / we can’t …
The sensitivity to touch / the diaristic indulgence / the pictorial mess …

Carolee was also known for her poetic correspondence. She wrote me a lot of emails. After the party at my house, she sent me the following, mentioning my son who was present at the event and who was just five at the time: “Tell Max I loved his dance… it was really memorable and full. of dangers. But as an adult, I didn’t give him the best appreciation he deserved. “On another note, he shows his spirit, perhaps playing with online conversational language all around.” VRWTB, “he writes inventing his own acronym:” Very rushed with the breeze. “

This reminds me, in part, of Nora Turato’s work. Her recent renditions of self-produced screenplays at New York’s MoMA borrow something from Carolee. In the new book by critics Philippa Snow on self-harm as entertainment, which as you know means violence, she quotes Carolee who speaks of female performance as indelibly linked to cultural pleasure for a man (dancer, stripper, actress), while male performance challenges the body. in a physical way. She writes: “He is climbing a mountain instead of lying on a glacier in his underwear.” Carolee understood the threatening nature of a woman who subverts all looks. The viewer is shocked and somewhat changed, but unable to fully respect the always attractive agent of the message.

After she dies, the accolades come quickly for Carolee. They had never been so helpful when she was still pushing the limits of earth-bound energy, inhabiting her body.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.