Carolee Schneemann

Artist Carolee Schneemann left this world yesterday: New Moon in Pisces & the final day of my menstrual bleed this month.

This is Schneemann’s work on display in the ‘Media Networks: Feminism and Media’ collection at the Tate Modern:

Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019)

This is Schneemann more recently, talking about her installation Up To and Including Her Limits at MOMA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smo4OR3Gvq8

When Joe & I made The Unfinished Dream in 2016, and I performed it with words written across my body in my own menstrual blood and with Joe’s looping animation projection, I didn’t know Schneemann’s art. I was largely influenced by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s A Ble W Ail (1975), by Bhanu Kapil’s ‘Both Sides and the Centre’ (2011), and by the work of The Neo Naturists (Christine Binnie, Jennifer Binnie, Wilma Johnson).

I was subsequently discouraged from my naked performance practice in various ways and by various people – some with good reason, encouraging me to question the politics and principles that formed the foundation of this work. And it’s given me pause to think.

Now I look forward to spending more time with Carolee Schneemann’s artworks, and revisiting the work of all these inspiring women who’s bodies become the primary material of their practice. And as I grow in consciousness as I also grow in confidence.

I don’t agree with Schneemann’s comment in the video that Performance Art is about ‘self confession, self exposure or personal narrative’ so much as I take from Cha’s desire in her performance ‘to be the dream of the audience’. In this sense, Cha understands the performer to be simultaneously both subject and object – both performer and performance, artist and artwork – destabilising the binary hierarchical relationship between artist (as subject) and audience (as object).

Cha’s performances invite and require her audience to be actively engaged with the co-creation of meaning in the performance. Placing herself as performer in an intersubjective relationship with her audience, Cha both occupies and evacuates the subject position in order that it can be both filled and relinquished by her audience. She’s neither asserting nor rejecting her presence as a subject. She is performing the mediated intersubjectivity that keeps us all connected.

Schneemann’s resistance to the idea of ‘self exposure’ in relation to her very visceral and exposing artwork asks us equally to consider the relationship between artist, artwork and audience. I don’t think Schneemann’s purpose is in any way similar to Cha’s, but rather it forces us to make the separation between artist and artwork – even where that artwork is created from the material of the artist’s own body, or bodily fluids.

Thank you Carolee Schneemann, 1939-2019.

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