Carolee Schneemann, Early and Recent Work, A Survey
was curated by Heide Hatry and exhibited in 2007 at Pierre Menard Gallery, Cambridge, MA.
A catalogue was edited by Heide Hatry and is available in the STORE in this website.
The first time I saw documentation of Carolee Schneemann’s interior Scroll, I was utterly mesmerized by the image of a figure straight out of the mythic past, a female Thoth, or Diana, perhaps: utterly composed, aware of who she is, self-contained, a bit martial, unrelated to the pathetic beings among whom she has arisen. as in her early masterpiece, Fuses, I felt that she had stepped out of the thicket of verbiage and false consciousness, sexual repression and imposed identity in which woman had been fixed − effortlessly at that − and revealed the singular untrammeled glory of the female being, the pure joy and embracing potential, the deeply sexual and utterly uncharted core of her being, and she was here to assert its claims. Her body was implicitly an assault upon, an argument with, an affront to a world which could not recognize in it anything of its own, and therefore, a stark, powerful, unique force, given voice for the first time. This isn’t someone representing me, it seemed to say, this is me, myself, the source, not a simulacrum of the source.
Although I assume that there have always been women who lived intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and sexually rich lives, even in deep harmony with men who perhaps never really understood that their relationship was a gift of the highest order, I can’t really think of a precursor among her forebears in the arts whose celebration of the beauty, joys and ecstasies of the senses is as definitive, dividing everything into a before and an after, as Carolee Schneemann’s. Certainly she has a history (or istory) and must have vanquished the most insidious thoughts our culture devises, along with its crudest assaults, to become who her art says she is, but she seems to arise from nowhere, like aphrodite – I consider it a humorous reference to the myth when she first emerges from the sea and then playfully pretends to return to it in Fuses. although the convention has it that woman is appearance, a thing to be seen, when Carolee Schneemann made it possible actually to see woman, a woman, not an image of woman, it was received like a slap in the face. of course the iconographical Carolee is an image, too. Her art is not life – the other critical strategem by which it has been contrived to ignore it/her. One wants to say that the work is direct, unmediated, but that is in some way to dismiss it, though it is undeniable that it has the quality of presence, of being, of authenticity, and power like a force of nature.
Her work has always provoked rage, anger and disgust, but only within the range of her voice. it was, though, the silence, the almost palpable silence, a silence persisting over decades, which was most dispiriting: outrage is, at least, some kind of response. When I try to imagine how it is possible that thinkers at the highest levels of critical feminist thought, and praxis, are so often not aware of, or concerned with, Carolee Schneemann’s work, given that it anticipated, in essence and in detail, the discipline of women’s studies and charts the coming to consciousness of ideas ensconced in its classic works, it is difficult not to conclude that art itself is suspect to the philosophers − heirs of Plato − and the revolutionaries, and that sex, and not just sex, but the body itself, is viewed with distrust. When I try to understand how the art world, presumably the best prepared audience in existence for the reception of the radical, the new, “the true” and “the real,” after more than a century of fending off and then deriding the “ignorant philistine,” can have joined the general failure to embrace, to understand, to celebrate, to champion such work, I can only conclude that it is, after all, a market, and that things which can’t be sold have no value there.
Carolee Schneemann is what we call a renaissance person (yes, that’s not what we call them), actually, a renaissance woman (which we have never called them). Her opus is vast, diverse, organic, articulated and articulate: one wants to see it more as a huge integrated project expressing the life of woman, political society, humanity and her time than as a series of individual works, all of it tied together like the work of her renaissance precursors by thought, language and theory (theorein: to look at), a cleaning out of centuries of accumulated nonsense from the stables of culture, and the presentation of a vision of an utterly new world. Her work is as integrated with her thought and writing as is that of Leonardo, Cezanne, Kandinsky or Duchamp, and as eloquently, naturally, cogently, subtly and provocatively. Like any of these istorical figures, she elaborated a new vocabulary to address problems of new work, work done for previously non- existent reasons, and it is just as fresh, sane (humane) and as Katherine Stiles has intimated in her Heideggerian accounts of Schneemann’s career, she is near the source of being. It’s what Heidegger thought all great artists were and that fact, or reality, is so present, to use a philosophically tormented word, that it may be difficult to recognize the difference in it between life and art. Schneemann has worked within that tortured realm all her creative life, and in doing so has radically changed, well, everything.
Heide Hatry, 2011