"It was in the body that the energy and the confirmation of what I'd seen and lived was coherent. That was an area that hadn't been colonized."
Throughout her career Carolee Schneemann has used her body to examine the role of female sensuality in connection to the possibilities of political and personal liberation from predominantly oppressive social and aesthetic conventions. Drawing on the expressive possibilities of film, performance, photography, and installation, among other media, she has explored themes of generation and goddess imagery, sexuality, and everyday erotics, as well as personal biography and loss. Although renowned for her work in performance and other media, Schneemann began her career as a painter, stating, "I'm a painter. I'm still a painter and I will die a painter. Everything that I have developed has to do with extending visual principles off the canvas." She continues to perform, film, and record through the present day, and has been acknowledged by many as progenitor ofart, as well as and multimedia art.
CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN BIOGRAPHY
Carolee Schneemann was born and raised in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania. She began drawing at a young age and cites this as an early premonition about her future career. She visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a young adult and recalls feeling a strong connection to the artwork. She was the first woman in her family to attend college and received a full scholarship to Bard, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree. While at Bard, she studied painting at Columbia University, where she met her first husband, James Tenney, an experimental music composer. She received her MFA from the University of Illinois in 1962 and she and Tenney returned to New York.
In her early career Schneemann focused on painting in anstyle. She produced many pieces, but during her graduate work in Illinois she decided that Abstract Expressionism was a boy's club and the paintbrush itself was too "phallic." She became a member of an avant-garde circle of artists, writers and musicians in New York, associating with , , and . She also visited Factory, met and spent time with . Her artistic emergence in New York City was marked by a party she threw at her Manhattan loft where she invited all the artists she had met. She called it her "debutante party," and it ended with holes being smashed into her walls and the word "rats" painted in various places throughout the loft. In 1962, Schneemann began a three-year working relationship with the Judson Dance Theater, a focal point for avant-garde performance, dance, and theater production in Greenwich Village. She also participated in performances coordinated by Kaprow, Oldenburg, and Morris. These collaborations were the catalyst for her transition to performance art and other media, and in 1963 she began experimenting with what she called "kinetic theater," a combination of performance and installation art.
Schneemann created viscerally inspired performances in the 1960s and 1970s but also delved into collage, assemblages, film, and photography. Often her ideas for her work came from dreams, finding inspiration in the sequences of images and sounds in the unconscious nocturnal workings of her mind. She reveled in challenging social taboos in her work and set out to bring down, "the psychic territorial power lines by which women were admitted to the Art Stud Club." In the early 1960s, she travelled to Paris where she first performed her workin 1964, a multi-media spectacle involving raw meat, sexuality, and pop music. That same year she began work on her first major film, Fuses (1964-1967), a tribute to her sexual and emotional relationship with Tenney and the first of her autobiographical trilogy. Her next film, Plumb Line (1968) dealt with the unraveling of an heterosexual relationship and provided her with catharsis as her relationship with Tenney ended that same year. She had many other relationships during her career, but none that resulted in multiple collaborations. Despite the tumultuous end to their long-term relationship, she did maintain correspondence with Tenney, and even wrote to him about her subsequent relationship with fellow artist and filmmaker Anthony McCall.
Throughout the 1970s, she continued to collaborate with, and artists, and she maintained correspondence with Kaprow throughout their lives. Schneemann refined her performance aesthetic through works like (1973-1976) an embodied exploration of the theme of the artist's gesture, which she first performed at Grand Central Station in New York City at the Avant Garde Festival. Her 1975 performance , at the Women Here and Now conference in East Hampton, Long Island, was photographed by her partner at the time, McCall and is a germinal example of her feminist exploration of the female body as both subject and object of art, as well as the source of its creation.
In addition to her film, performance, and installation works, Schneemann published her first book, Parts of A Body House, in 1972 in which she linked the body to the domestic realm. Her second book, Cézanne: She was a Great Painter (1976), used a drawing from when she was four years old of a figure looking in the mirror for its cover, and within she reflected on her own biography, western art history and the painter, Cézanne. In 1979, with the book More Than Meat Joy, Schneemann presents a survey of the documentation of her performance career up through 1978, as well as her published essays.
In the 1980s and 1990s Schneemann turned toward photography and installation pieces but still performed widely, with a transitional works like Fresh Blood, (1981-1987) encompassing performance, installation, and multimedia. The photographic installation, Infinity Kisses (1980-1988), is an extended documentation in which she photographed her cat Cluny over eight years as he gave her a kiss each morning.
With the AIDS crisis and economic tumult of the 1980s, many of her friends and colleagues passed away. She commemorated them in the work Mortal Coils (1994), an installation that utilized video and sculptural elements. She has stated that some feminists of this era felt that her work was not a sufficient way to address current feminist issues, but that did not dissuade her from continuing to create new works and further disseminating her feminist message. Her work is owned by museums throughout the world and she continues to write as well as exhibit and lecture globally. She was the first woman professor in the art department at Rutgers University and has since taught at many colleges including New York University and the California Institute of the Arts. Today Schneemann lives and works in New Paltz, New York, in a Huguenot stone house that she has owned since her relationship with James Tenney.
Schneemann's groundbreaking works on film have been an inspiration for later artists, like Peggy Ahwesh and Abigail Child, and provided them with a historic precedent for feminist filmmaking. Her performance and photographic works also set a precedent for artists like
CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN QUOTES
"I can make something taboo so formally compelling the taboo becomes the after-effect. That makes it much more powerful."
"As I hacked at the excluding vital surfaces of Abstract Expressionism, my entire body ripped through the canvas to emerge on the other side in actual time and space as an active and activating form."
"By the year 2000 no young woman artist will meet the determined resistance and constant undermining which I endured as a student. Her studio and history [sic] courses will usually be taught by women; she will never feel like a provisional guest at the banquet of life or a monster defying her 'God-given' role; or a belligerent whose devotion to creativity could only exist at the expense of a man, or men and their needs. Nor will she go into the 'art world,' gracing or disgracing a pervading stud club of artists, historians, teachers, museum directors, magazine editors, gallery dealers - all male, or committed to masculine preserves. All that is marvellously, already falling around our feet."