& The Film Section, Carnegie Institute Jan. 24, 1978
Independent Film-Maker Carolee Schneemann
Carolee Schneemann is a member of a new group of artists who are active in so many different media that no simple classification can usefully be applied to them. Now and in the past she has been a painter, filmmaker, choreographer, performance artist, writer . . . unselfconsciously
moving from one mode of expression to the next, choosing to "speak" through each so as to subtly say different things about the human condition, the place of women in our culture, and her—Carolee Schneemann's— situation and aspirations as an artist.
The following are only tentative notes toward a more complete profile of Schneemann the trans-media artist. My knowledge of her work is largely limited to her films—and not all of them. To speak to the total body of her work is, for the moment, not possible; too much of it is bound up in performance pieces that have been insufficiently documented (although this situation may be substantially changed by the coming publication of her book More Than Meat Joy). So the intent of these notes is, first, to clarify some key aspects of her work, and, second, to provoke discussion and greater understanding of her accomplishments.
Schneemann’s first direct encounters with film came through her appearances in Stan Brakhage 's Loving (1957), Cat's Cradle (1959), and the use of her house and friends in Brakhage's Daybreak and Whiteye (1957). In Loving, for example, "I was both participant in and subject to Stan's search for a visualized sexual self-definition . . . ." She recalls the
film as "an extremely frustrating event, in which I felt repressed, witnessed, appreciated but constrained." (1) Essentially a performer in Loving (in which she makes love to her real-life lover, Jim Tenney) Schneemann felt "central energies" of her life and relationship with Tenney were avoided by Brakhage. At about this same time she also became interested in making films, rather than just appearing in them, because of the means it provided her for extending what she was already doing.
"I had been working in collage, and increasing the dimensionality of the picture plane for five or six years. What I had been incorporating into these collages had been materials that were actual parts of my real life, such as broken pictures, some underwear. In the late 1950s I did a whole piece using images shot by Julia Margaret Cameron, with Jim Tenney's underwear . . . and built works around that discontinuity of materials." (2)
Perhaps no better illustration of Schneemann's frustration at this time can be given than by pointing out that the "I love you" written on the window in White Eye, was written to Schneemann by Tenney, but appropriated by Brakhage for someone else. (3)
In 1964 she began making her own films, beginning with what can be seen as a restatement of Loving. Again Schneemann is onscreen making love with Tenney, but the film (it became Fuses in 1968) is markedly different from Loving, incorporating layers of paint, superimposition, image repetition (deliberately visible), and a candor in representing intercourse that was not possible ten years earlier (Kodak seized erotic footage in the 1950s).
Already there is a continuity between cinema and the rest of her work/ life. Just as she would incorporate her lover's belongings into collage constructions in the 1950s, so she would use his image in a film she made, with her eyes, in the 1960s. Fuses is a kind of intimate diary, and Schneemann sees it as only the first chapter of a film diary which
continues in Plumb Line (1968-72),and Kitch's Last Meal (1973— ).
This impulse to make a film diary is one of the things Schneemann has. in common with Brakhage, but also with a score of other contemporary filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, and Aggy Read (who tomorrow will be showing a chapter of his film diary at PFMI).
Tonight's program of Plumb Line and Kitch's Last Meal offers a special opportunity to explore the diary form in film.
Schneemann's film work also includes what can best be described as a kind of documentation of her performance pieces, e.g. In Quest of Meat Joy, Water Liqht/Water Needle, Illinois Central, and others. Made in collaboration with others, they have not satisfied Schneemann to the extent of her diary work. In the area of documentation,still photography has served her better, for this writer's eyes. The portfolio of images from Round House and Meat Joy in the October 1970 Creative Camera far more effectively evoke the environment Schneemann described in a 1968 text:
sensitizations through space stretch between individuals pure sensory interaction complete improvisation within specific situation . . .
loss of self-consciousness flow kind of rhythmic hypnotic speed (4)
. . . the life of the body is more variously expressive than a sexnegative society can admit. I didn't stand naked in front of 300
people because I wanted to be fucked, but because my sex and work
were harmoniously experienced, I could have the audacity, or courage, to show the body as a source of varying emotive power. (5)
1. Schneemann letter to Haller, Oct. 23, 1977, p. 1.
2. Schneemann interview with Haller, Nov. 30, 1973, side one of tape.
3. letter of Oct. 23, 1977, p. 1.
4. Schneemann, "Notes of Motion," Parts of a Body House Book, 1972.
5. Schneemann quoted in Lucy Lippard, "The Pains and Pleasures of Rebirth: Women's Body Art," Art in America, May-June 1976, p. 76.
This program is supported in part by grants from the
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
TOMORROW: Jan. 25, Wednesday, at PFMI: Aggy Read from Australia, with
Far Be It Me From It and Sentimental Bloke. At 8 pm
& The Film Section, Carnegie Institute Jan. 24, 1978