October 12, 1939 |
Fox Chase, Pennsylvania
|Field||Visual art, Performance art|
|Training||Bard College, University of Illinois|
Carolee Schneemann (born October 12, 1939) is an American visual artist, known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender. She received a B.A. from Bard College and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois. Her work is primarily characterized by research into visual traditions, taboos, and the body of the individual in relationship to social bodies. Her works have been shown at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the New York Museum of Modern Art, and the London National Film Theatre. Schneemann has taught at several universities, including the California Institute of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hunter College, and Rutgers University, where she was the first female art professor hired. Additionally, she has published widely, producing works such as Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter (1976) and More than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings (1997).
When she was a child, her friends described her as "a mad pantheist," due to her relationship and respect for nature. Schneemann cites her earliest connections between art and sexuality to her drawings from ages four and five, which she drew on her father's prescription tablets. Schneemann's family was generally supportive of her naturalness and freeness with her body. Schneemann herself has attributed her father's support to the fact that he was a rural physician who had to often deal with the body in various states of health.
Schneemann was awarded a full scholarship to New York's Bard College. She was the first woman from her family to attend college, but her father discouraged her from an art education. While at Bard, Schneemann began to realize the differences between male and female perceptions of each other's bodies while serving as a nude model for her boyfriend's portraits and while painting nude self-portraits. While on leave from Bard and on a separate scholarship to Columbia University, she met musician James Tenney, who was attending The Juilliard School. Her first experience with experimental film was through Stan Brakhage, her and Tenney's friend. After graduating from Bard, Schneemann attended the University of Illinois for her graduate degree.
Carolee Schneemann began her art career as a painter in the late 1950s. Her painting work began to adopt some of the characteristics of Neo-Dada art, as she used box structures coupled with expressionist brushwork. These constructs share the heavily textural characteristics found in the work of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg. Schneemann described the atmosphere in the art community at this time as misogynistic and that female artists of the time were not aware of their bodies. These works integrated influence by artists such as Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne and the issues in painting brought up by the abstract expressionists. Schneemann chose to focus on expressiveness in her art rather than accessibility or stylishness. She still described herself as a formalist however, unlike other feminist artists who wanted to distance themselves from male-oriented art history. Schneemann became involved with the art movement of happenings when she organized A Journey through a Disrupted Landscape, inviting people to "crawl, climb, negotiate rocks, climb, walk, go through mud". Soon thereafter she met Allan Kaprow, the primary figure of happenings in addition to artists Red Grooms and Jim Dine. Influenced by figures such as Simone de Beauvoir, Antonin Artaud, Wilhelm Reich, and Kaprow, Schneemann found herself drawn away from painting.
In 1962, Schneemann moved with James Tenney from their residence in Illinois to New York when Tenney obtained a job with Bell Laboratories as an experimental composer. Through one of Tenney's colleagues at Bell, Billy Klüver, Schneemann was able to meet figures such as Claes Oldenburg, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg which got her involved with the Judson Memorial Church's art program. There, she participated in works such as Oldenburg's Store Days (1962) and Robert Morris's Site (1964) where she played a living version of Édouard Manet's Olympia. She began to use her nude body in works, feeling that it needed to be seized back from the status of a cultural possession. Schneemann got to personally know many New York musicians and composers in the 1960s as well, including George Brecht, Malcolm Goldstein, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. She was also highly interested in the abstract expressionists of the time, such as Willem de Kooning. However, despite her numerous connections in the art world, Schneeman's painting-constructions did not generate interest from New York art dealers, though Oldenburg suggested that there would have been more interest from Europe. The first support for Schneemann's work came from poets such as Robert Kelly, David Antin, and Paul Blackburn who published some of her writings.
Production on Schneemann's work Eye Body began in 1963. Schneemann created a "loft environment" filled with broken mirrors, motorized umbrellas, and rhythmic color units. To become a piece of the art herself, Schneemann covered herself in various materials including grease, chalk, and plastic. She created 36 "transformative-actions" - photographs by Icelandic artist Erró of herself in her constructed environment. Included in these images is a frontal nude featuring two garden snakes crawling on Schneemann's torso. This image drew particular attention both for its "archaic eroticism" and her visible clitoris. Schneemann claims that she did not know at the time of the symbolism of the serpent in ancient cultures in figures such as the Minoan Snake Goddess and, in fact, learned of it years later. Upon its presentation to the public in 1963, art critics found the piece to be lewd and pornographic. Artist Valie Export notes Eye Body for the way in which Schneemann portrays "how random fragments of her memory and personal elements of her environment are superimposed on her perception."
The 1964 piece Meat Joy revolved around eight partially nude figures dancing and playing with various objects and substances including wet paint, sausage, raw fish, scraps of paper, and raw chickens. It was first performed in Paris and was later filmed and photographed as performed by her Kinetic Theater group at Judson Memorial Church. She described the piece as an "erotic rite" and an indulgent Dionysian "celebration of flesh as material." Meat Joy is similar to the art form happenings in that they both use improvisation and focused on conception, rather than execution. Though her work of the 1960s was more performance-based, she continued to build assemblages such as the Joseph Cornell-influenced Native Beauties (1962–64), Music Box Music (1964), and Pharaoh's Daughter (1966). Her Letter to Lou Andreas Salome (1965) expressed Schneemann's philosophical interests by combining scrawlings of Nietzsche and Tolstoy with a Rauschenberg-like form.
In 1964, Schneemann began production of her film Fuses, eventually finishing it in 1967. Fuses portrayed Schneemann and her then-boyfriend James Tenney having sex as recorded by a 16 mm Bolex camera. Schneemann then altered the film by staining, burning, and directly drawing on the celluloid itself, mixing the concepts of painting and collage. The segments were edited together at varying speeds and superimposed with photographs of nature, which she juxtaposed against her and Tenney's bodies and sexual actions. Fuses was motivated by Schneemann's desire to know if a woman's depiction of her own sexual acts was different from pornography and classical art as well as a reaction to Stan Brakhage's Window Water Baby Moving. She showed the film to her contemporaries as she worked on it in 1965 and 1966, receiving mostly positive feedback from her peers. Many critics though described it as "narcissistic exhibitionism" and described it as self-indulgent. She received an especially strong reaction regarding the cunnilingus scene of the film. While Fuses is viewed as a "proto-feminist" film, Schneemann feels that it was largely neglected by feminist film historians. The film lacked the fetishism and objectification of the female body as seen in much male-oriented pornography. Two years after its completion, it won a Cannes Film Festival Special Jury Selection prize. Pop artist Andy Warhol, with whom Schneemann was acquainted, having spent time at The Factory, drolly remarked that Schneemann should have taken the film to Hollywood. Fuses became the first in Carolee Schneemann's Autobiographical Trilogy. Though her works of the 1960s such as this shared many of the same ideas with the concurrent Fluxus artists, she remained independent of any specific movement. They did, however, form the groundwork for the feminist art movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Schneemann points out that the sexuality of the film overrides its formal and structural aspects to many viewers.
Schneemann began work on the next film, Plumb Line, in her Autobiographical Trilogy in 1968. The film opens with a still shot of a man's face with a plumb line in front of it before the entire image begins to burn. Various images including Schneemann and the man appear in different quadrants of the frame while a discombobulating soundtrack consisting of music, sirens, and cat noises among other things play in the background. The sound and visuals grow more intense as the film progresses, with Schneemann narrating about a period of physical and emotional illness. The film ends with Schneemann attacking a series of projected images and a repetition of the opening segment of the film. During a showing of Plumb Line at a women's film festival, the film was booed for the image of the man at the beginning of the film.
In 1975, Schneemann performed Interior Scroll, a Fluxus-influenced piece featuring her use of text and body. In her performance, Schneemann entered wrapped in a sheet, under which she wore an apron. She disrobed and then got on a table where she outlined her body with dark paint. Several times, she would take "action poses", similar to those in figure drawing classes. Concurrently, she read from her book Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter. Following this, she dropped the book and slowly extracted from her vagina a scroll from which she read. Schneemann's feminist scroll speech, according to performance theorist Jeanie Forte, made it seem as if "[Schneemann]'s vagina itself is reporting [...] sexism". Art critic Robert C. Morgan states that it is necessary to acknowledge the period during which Interior Scroll was produced in order to understand it. He argues that by placing the source of artistic creativity at the female genitals, Schneemann is changing the masculine overtones of minimalist art and conceptual art into a feminist exploration of her body. Interior Scroll, along with Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, helped pioneer many of the ideas later popularized by the off-broadway show The Vagina Monologues.
In 1978, Schneemann finished the last film, Kitch's Last Meal, in what was later called her "Autobiographical Trilogy".
1980s and beyond
In the 1980s, Schneemann says that her work was sometimes considered by various feminist groups to be an insufficient response to many feminist issues of the time.
Schneemann's 1994 piece Mortal Coils commemorated fifteen friends and colleagues who had died over the period of two years including Hannah Wilke, John Cage, and Charlotte Moorman. The piece consisted of rotating mechanisms from which hung coiled ropes while slides of the commemorated artists were shown on the walls.
In December 2001, she unveiled Terminal Velocity, which consisted of a group of photographs of people falling to their deaths from the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Along with another of Schneemann's works which used the same images, Dark Pond, Schneemann sought to "personalize" the victims of the attack. To achieve this, she digitally enhanced and enlarged the figures in the images, isolating the figures from the surroundings.
Schneemann continues to produce art, including the 2007 installation Devour, which featured videos of recent wars contrasted with everyday images of United States daily life on dual screens.
One of Schneemann's primary focuses in her work is the separation between eroticism and the politics of gender. Her cat Kitch, which was featured in works such as Fuses (1967) and Kitch's Last Meal (1978), was a major figure in Schneemann's work for almost twenty years. She used Kitch as an "objective" observer to her and Tenney's sexual activities, as she stated that she was unaffected by human mores. One of her later cats, Vesper, was featured in the photographic series Infinity Kisses (1986). In a wall-size collection of 140 photos, Schneemann documents herself kissing Vesper and documents "the artist at life".
She lists as an aesthetic influence on herself and James Tenney the poet Charles Olson, especially to the collage Maximus at Gloucester but also in general, "in relationship to his concern for deep imagery, sustained metaphor, and also that he had been researching Tenney’s ancestors", despite his occasional sexist comments.
Schneemann considers her photographic and body pieces to still be based in painting despite appearing otherwise on the surface. She has described herself as "A painter who has left the canvas to activate actual space and lived time." She cites her studies with painter Paul Brach as teaching her to "understand the stroke as an event in time" and to think of her performers as "colors in three dimensions." Schneemann took the ideas found in her figurative abstract paintings of the 1950s, where she cut and destroyed layers of paint from their surfaces, and transferred them to her photographic work Eye Body. Art history professor Kristine Stiles asserts that Schneemann's entire oeuvre is devoted to exploring the concepts of figure-ground, relationality (both through use of her body), and similitude (through the use of cats and trees). Stiles asserts that the issues of sex and politics in Schneemann's work merely dictate how the art is shaped, rather than the formal concepts found behind it. For example, Schneemann relates the colors and movement featured in Fuses to brush strokes in painting. Her 1976 piece Up to and Including Her Limits, too, invoked the gestural brush strokes of the abstract expressionists with Scheemann swinging from ropes and scribbling with crayons onto a variety of surfaces.
Feminism and body
Schneemann acknowledges that she is often labeled as a feminist icon and that she is an influential figure to female artists, but she also notes that she reaches out to male artists as well. Though she is noted for being a feminist figure, her works explore issues in art and rely heavily on her broad knowledge of art history. Though works such as Eye Body were meant to explore the processes of painting and assemblage, rather than to address feminist topics, they still possess a strong female presence.
Unlike much other feminist art, Schneemann's revolves around sexual expression and liberation, rather than referring to victimization or repression of women.  According to artist and lecturer Johannes Birringer, Schneemann's work resists the political correctness enforced by some branches of feminism as well as ideologies which feminists claim are misogynist, such as psychoanalysis. He also asserts that Schneemann's work is difficult to classify and analyze as it combines constructivist and painterly concepts with her physical body and energy. In her 1976 book Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter, Schneemann wrote that she used nudity in her artwork to break taboos associated with the kinetic human body and to show that "the life of the body is more variously expressive than a sex-negative society can admit." She also stated, "In some sense I made a gift of my body to other women; giving our bodies back to ourselves." She preferred her term "art istorical" (without the h), so as to reject the "his" in history.
As much of Schneemann's work is performance-based, photographs, video documentation, sketches, and artist's notes are often used to examine her work.
It was not until the 1990s when Schneemann's work began to become recognized as important works of feminist art. The first prominent exhibition of her work was the 1996 retrospective Up To and Including Her Limits, named for her 1973 work of the same title. It was held at New York City's New Museum of Contemporary Art and was organized by senior curator Dan Cameron. Previously, these works were dismissed as narcissism or otherwise overly sexualized forms of expression.
Critic Jan Avgikos wrote in 1997, "Prior to Schneemann, the female body in art was mute and functioned almost exclusively as a mirror of masculine desire." Critics have also noted that the reaction to Schneemann's work has changed since its original performance. Nancy Princenthal notes that modern viewers of Meat Joy are still squeamish about it; however, now the reaction is also due to the biting of raw chicken or the men hauling women over their shoulders.
List of selected works
- 1963: Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions
- 1964: Meat Joy
- 1965: Viet Flakes
- Autobiographical Trilogy
- 1964-67: Fuses
- 1968-71: Plumb Line
- 1973-78: Kitch's Last Meal
- 1973-76: Up to and Including Her Limits
- 1975: Interior Scroll
- 1981: Fresh Blood: A Dream Morphology
- 1981-88: Infinity Kisses
- 1986: Hand/Heart for Ana Mendieta
- 1986-88: Venus Vectors
- 1987-88: Vesper's Pool
- 1990: Cycladic Imprints
- 1991: Ask the Goddess
- 1994: Mortal Coils
- 1995: Vulva's Morphia
- 2001: More Wrong Things
- 2001: Terminal Velocity
- 2007: Devour
- Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter (1976)
- More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings (1979, 1997)
- Early and Recent Work (1983)
- Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (2001)
- "The art audience is very receptive to what I do. It's a mutual influence."
- "I take the position that I do not ask anyone else to do what I myself would not do and using myself as subject . . . as material (I) want to displace the power and separation of the artist from what's made. In the masculine tradition the director, the producer is always outside of the work because he's above it."
- Morgan, Robert C.; Schneemann, Carolee; Cameron, Dan; Stiles, Kristine; Strauss, David Levi (Winter 1997). "Carolee Schneemann: The Politics of Eroticism". Art Journal (College Art Association) 56 (4): pp. 97–100. doi:10.2307/777735. JSTOR 777735.
- Montano, p. 132.
- Montano, Linda (2001). "Interview with Linda Montano". Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects. MIT Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-262-69297-X.
- ND (2001). "Interview with ND". Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects. MIT Press. p. 113. ISBN 0-262-69297-X.
- Montano, p. 132-133.
- Gorton, Krystin (2006). Psychoanalysis and the portrayal of desire in twentieth century fiction: a feminist critique. Edwin Mellen Press. p. 38. ISBN 0-7734-5559-0.
- Schoen, Christian (29 May 2008). "The Icelandic Muse" (18). LIST Icelandic Art News.
- Vaughan, R. M. (2007-04-14). "Still crashing borders after all these years; The monstrous and the mundane collide in a massive survey of Carolee Schneemann's taboo-busting art". The Globe and Mail. p. R18.
- Harris, Jane (1996). "Review / Carolee Schneemann". Plexus. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
- Haug, Kate (1998). "An Interview with Carolee Schneemann". Wide Angle 20 (1): 20–49. doi:10.1353/wan.1998.0009 (inactive 2010-01-06). Retrieved 2007-02-03.
- ND, p. 114.
- Newman, Amy (2002-02-03). "An Innovator Who Was the Eros of Her Own Art". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- ND, p. 116.
- ND, p. 117.
- ND, p. 118.
- Schneemann, Carolee (Winter 1991). "The Obscene Body/Politic". Art Journal (College Art Association) 50 (4): 28–35. doi:10.2307/777320. JSTOR 777320.
- "Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions 1963". Caroleeschneemann.com. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
- ND, p. 121.
- Export, Valie (Spring-Summer 1989). "Aspects of Feminist Actionism". New German Critique (New German Critique) 47 (47): 69–92. doi:10.2307/488108. JSTOR 488108.
- Princenthal, Nancy (October 1997). "The arrogance of pleasure - body art, Carolee Schneemann". Art in America. Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2007-11-24.
- Glueck, Grace (1996-12-06). "Of a Woman's Body as Both Subject and Object". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-24.
- MacDonald, Scott (Autumn 1980). "Carolee Schneemann's "Autobiographical Trilogy"". Film Quarterly 34 (1): pp. 27–32. doi:10.1525/fq.1980.34.1.04a00060. JSTOR 1211851.
- NSRC staff (2005-03-22). "Hear Her Roar: Carolee Schneemann transforms art and discourse on the body, sexuality, and gender". American Sexuality. National Sexuality Resource Center. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
- Birringer, Johannes (May 1993). "Imprints and Re-Visions: Carolee Schneemann's Visual Archeology". PAJ 15 (2): pp. 45–46. ISSN 0735-8393. JSTOR 3245709.
- ND, p. 125.
- O'Dell, Kathy (Spring 1997). "Fluxus Feminus". TDR (MIT Press) 41 (1): 43–60. doi:10.2307/1146571. JSTOR 1146571.
- Hall, Kim Q. (2005). "Queerness, Disability, and The Vagina Monologues". Hypatia 20 (1): pp. 110–111. doi:10.1353/hyp.2005.0010. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
- Valdez, Sarah (June–July 2006). "Carolee Schneemann at P.P.O.W". Art in America. Archived from the original on 2007-12-04. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- McQuaid, Cate (2007-11-08). "Taking control with her bodies of work". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- Schneemann as quoted in Scobie, Ilka. "Corporeal". artnet.com. Retrieved 2007-11-09. "The sequences personalize individuals who in their normal workday were thrown by impact into a gravitational plunge, or chose to escape incineration by leaping into space."
- Buhmann, Stephanie (February 2006). "Carolee Schneemann: P.P.O.W". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- Koebel, Caroline (1998). "From Danger to Ascendancy: Notes Toward Carolee Schneemann". Wide Angle 20 (1): pp. 50–57. doi:10.1353/wan.1998.0006 (inactive 2010-01-06). Retrieved 2007-11-05.
- "Carolee Schneemann: "Remains to Be Seen: New and Restored Films and Videos"". Time Out New York. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- Carolee Schneemann Speaks, New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. Posted Oct. 11, 2007.
- Stiles, Kristine (2003). "The Painter as an Instrument of Real Time". Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-262-69297-X.
- Stiles, p. 4.
- Stiles, p. 8.
- Stiles, p. 11.
- Marranca, Bonnie (2005). "Performance, a Personal History". PAJ 28 (1): p. 16. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- Thompson, Chris; Katarina Weslien (2005). "Pure Raw: Performance, Pedagogy, and (Re)presentation - Marina Abramovic". PAJ 28 (1): p. 40. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- Marranca, Bonnie (1999). "Book Review: Bodies of Action, Bodies of Thought: Performance and Its Critics". PAJ 21 (1): p. 20. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- Richmond, Susan (2006). "Impassioned Witnesses: Women Artists, The Body and The Shame of Censorship". Potentially Harmful: The Art of American Censorship. ISBN 0-9776894-0-9.
- Birringer, pp. 34-35, 44.
- Cezanne, She Was A Great Painter as quoted in Semmel, Joan; April Kingsley. "Sexual Imagery in Women's Art". Woman's Art Journal 1 (1): p. 6. JSTOR 1358010.
- Jones, Amelia (1998). "The Rhetoric of the Pose: Hannah Wilke". Body Art: Performing the Subject. p. 160.
- United States Artists Official Website 
- Carolee Schneemann 'Vulva's Morphia' vol.6 July 2000 n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal pp.44_46-47