Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939) is a multi-disciplinary artist. She transformed the definition of art, especially discourse on the body, sexuality and gender. The history of her work is characterized by research into archaic visual traditions, pleasure wrested from suppressive taboos, the body of the artist in dynamic relationship with the social body. She has taught at many institutions including New York University, California Institute of the Arts, Bard College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recipient of a 1999 Art Pace International Artist Residency, San Antonio, Texas; Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (1997, 1998); 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship; Gottlieb Foundation Grant; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
Schneemann trained as a painter during the 1950s at Columbia University, New York City, Bard College, New York and the University of Illinois, Urbana. Although her reputation as an artist was built on her pioneering work in performance and film, she thinks of herself as a painter. Her radical early performance, Eye Body 1963 and Meat Joy 1964, brought first the artist’s naked body and then the semi-naked bodies of a group of young performers into the expressive realm of the painter’s canvas. In such films as Fuses 1964-7 (based on footage of Schneemann and her partner making love) and in many of her later performances, Schneemann insisted on the body explicitly sexual. Her refusal to divorce sexual experience from art making was intended as a return to the body as a source of knowledge and experience (as the artist perceived it to be for archaic cultures) and to unify its internal energies with the visual information it provides. In the context of the women’s movement in the 1970s, Schneemann’s performances introduced the body of the female artist as the source of her creative and imaginative energy as well as the site and the subject of the work.
Works presented for Sequences VII:
Up to and Including her Limits (video) extends the principles of Jackson Pollock’s action painting. Schneemann is suspended from a rope harness, naked and drawing; her moving body becomes a measure of concentration, the sustained and variable movements of her extended drawing hand creates a dense web of strokes and marking.
More Wrong Things (video installation) Fourteen video monitors suspended from the ceiling within an extended tangle of wires, cables and cords. Video loops seen on the monitors present a compendium of “Wrong Things”; juxtaposing Schneemann’s visual archives of personal and public disasters.
Eye Body (photographs of performance by Erró) Schneemann’s “Action for Camera” in which she merged her own body with the environment of her painting / constructions… “I wanted my actual body to be combined with the work as an integral material – a further dimension of the construction… I am both image maker and image. The body may remain erotic, sexual, desired, desiring, but it is as well votive: marked, written over in a text of stroke and gesture discovered by my female will.”
Fuses (video) A silent film of collaged and painted sequences of lovemaking between Schneemann and her then partner, composer James Tenney; observed by the cat, Kitch.
Breaking the Frame (biopic documentary) is a feature-length documentary portrait of Carolee Schneemann by Canadian filmmaker Marielle Nitoslawska. Ultimately, Breaking the Frame presents the artist’s recollections and meditations on life / work in order to pose the questions what is space, where is form, and how do we look? The insistently roving camera breaks open the frame(work) of art, revealing the magnificent mess of interiority and the interconnected holism of the creative process.
Interview: Hans Ulrich Obrist and Carolee Schneemann (video) With thanks to Hans Ulrich Obrist and Mark Rowan-Hull.