On the death of carolee schneemann: extremely imaginative, extremely radical

The performance artist Carolee Schneemann wrote art history. She thought it was right to bring female desire and lust into the art world.

Carolee Schneemann in Frankfurt’s MMK1, in the background the film "Body Collage" (1967) Photo: dpa

She did what was expected of her, the woman in the art world, and presented herself and her beauty; stood naked on a table and twisted and turned in all the ridiculous poses of the academic nude model. But then she did what was impossibly expected: She said she would read from her book "Cezanne, she was a great painter," but instead pulled a rolled-up strip of paper out of her vagina and read the text on it.

It read "be prepared to have your ideas stolen, to have ideas misunderstood, to be treated badly whether your success increases or decreases, to have disparagement and admiration walk in step with each other …".

That her performance "Interior Scroll" (1975) was highly controversial can be imagined. But it made Carolee Schneemann known beyond a small circle of connoisseurs. Incidentally, the text was addressed to the influential art historian Annette Michaelson, who had established the then new department of Cinema Studies at New York University.

Schneemann said Michaelson refused to watch her films. The attack had quite a bit of merit. For in Michaelson’s refusal to deal with Schneemann’s works, one can very well see the background foil for the fact that women artists generally do not appear in the writing of art history.

Extremely imaginative, extremely radical, and ultimately successful, Carolee Schneemann intervened against this rejection of female creativity. In 2017, she received the Golden Lion for her life’s work at the Venice Biennale. Trained at the Academy of Art, the artist, born in Pennsylvania in 1939, always saw herself as a painter. However, she wanted to bring movement into her abstract paintings, she wanted to set her already rhythmically dynamized paintings in motion herself, which is why she initially built motors into them and attached cans to them. These then made noises as the paintings rotated.

On March 8, we will publish on https://teslon.ru only contributions by women* and non-binary people, and only they will appear in it: as experts, as protagonists, in the photos. Nevertheless, we are not primarily concerned with what in common parlance is often called "women’s issues" – but with the events of the day.

Later she sought to bring her own physical energy and eroticism into the picture. This led to the transgression of the boundaries of painting and to the films Michaelson ignored, such as "Meat Joy" (1964), an orgy of all sexes complete with dead fish and plucked chickens, or to "Fuses" (1979), when she filmed herself and her husband having sex.

She thus became an important pioneer of feminist art – despite being accused of exhibitionism and narcissism by feminists at the time. It was then, she later said in an interview on the occasion of her exhibition, which had migrated from the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg to the MMK1 in Frankfurt in 2017, that she realized "that I had hit on something central with the concept of being an image and image producer at the same time."

Showing herself, as Frida Kahlo did, opened up the possibility of escaping the dominant construction of sexuality and created "a moment of truthfulness."

And indeed, she made art history with her moment of verisimilitude. Her performance film work became instrumental for entire generations of subsequent artists. She was, as she said, always convinced that it was right to bring female desire and desire, but also female resistance and irony, into the art world. "It was necessary. One day you will realize that something is missing". Now it is missing. Carolee Schneemann died Wednesday at the age of 79.

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