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Above: Carolee Schneemann's Up To And Including Her Limits installation, 1973-76. Courtesy PPOW.
by Cliff Eyland
Carolee Schneemann is one of Americas most important post-war artists, and her work has appeared in Canada since her 8 September 1967 Expo performance Night Crawlers/Rampants de la Nuit at the Pavillon de la Jeunesse in Montreal. Importantly, she has maintained a studio in Montreal since 1997. Most recently, her major show Split Decision happened at Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art in cooperation with CEPA Gallery in Buffalo.
Scheemann has also been a friend of Winnipeg since her appearance at an "International Intermedia Performance Festival" in 1986. Her Video Rocks multi-media installation debuted in Winnipeg at Plug In Inc. in 1989, and she visited Gallery One One One and the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the year 2000. The 2000 visit inspired subsequent programming at Gallery One One One, including an exhibition about the performance artist Charmaine, the painter Bev Pike and the photographer Dominique Rey. She was also the subject of an important cover article and interview by Robert Enright in Winnipeg's Border Crossings magazine in 1997.*
A 1975 quotation from Schneemanns statement Woman in the Year 2000 was reproduced on the poster for her 2000 Winnipeg visit. Her words are startling, especially in 2010:
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 Istory 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 marvelously, already falling around our feet.Schneemann's text does not explicitly say how an art Istory should be constructed, but cant we say with confidence that within even the most conventional historical overview of contemporary American art Carolee Scheemann has an exalted place?
The historical roots of Schneemann's art are worth discussion.
Today's prevailing popular view of Jackson Pollock, reinforced by Hollywood, makes him out to be a kind of drunken cowboy artist. Clement Greenberg's formalist take on Pollock defines how many still view his work, but Harold Rosenberg's notion of the canvas as an arena in which to act foreshadows, as many have pointed out, how Pollock influenced young artists of the 1950s and 1960s such as Schneemann.
Above: Jackson Pollock as he appeared in Life in 1949.
Photographs of Pollock "performatively" painting influenced Schneemann, Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, and countless other artists who emerged in the 1960s.
Schneemann's relation to Pollock is complex. One notes that the Schneemann's drawing gestures in Up To And Including Her Limits are not like those of Pollock, whose painting gestures were fast and decisive. (In fact, Schneemanns early paintings contain much more Abstract Expressionist mark-making than Up To....) Hans Namuths famous film footage of Pollock painting is silent, but Schneemanns tape is full of ambient sound.
Above: Matthew Barney, Drawing Restrant 14, 2006, performance at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Schneemanns oeuvre, like Pollock's, has influenced generations of artists, and it is impossible to imagine that the American artist Matthew Barney was not influenced in his Drawing Restraint series by Up To And Including Her Limits, which prefigures, by about 15 years, his use of rope and harness restraints as impediments or defining constraints on drawing actions.
UP TO AND INCLUDING HER LIMITS
Gallery One One One is showing Carolee Schneemanns 1976 video Up To And Including Her Limits as the sole work in this video projection exhibition, a work that is important enough that its title was used as the name of Schneemanns New Musuem retrospective in 1997, curated by Dan Cameron.
The piece was edited by Schneemann in 1984 from video footage of six performances: the Berkeley Museum, 1974; London Filmmaker's Cooperative, 1974; Artists Space, NY, 1974; Anthology Film Archives, NY, 1974; The Kitchen, NY, 1976; and the Studio Galerie, Berlin, 1976.
Up To And Incuding Her Limits gathers together documentation of a performance in which Schneemann, alternately clothed and unclothed, draws on the walls and floors of an enclosure, sometimes while she is in a tree surgeons harness. Sometimes her eyes are closed as she draws, and sometimes she draws with an open-eyed deliberation. The pace of her drawing alternately slows down and speeds up. The wall drawings are clearly not meant to depict anything in particular, but rather to act as a graphic record of her bodily movements. (Schneemann: Marks referential to actions producing them both visible and invisible, durable and non-durable. from Carolee Schneemann: Imagining Her Erotics, Cambridge: MIT Press 2003). In parts of the video a film projection of Schneemann playing with her cat Kitch can be seen; and Carolee can also be heard talking about her cat. The colour in the video is muted, soft and painterly.
"[My] actions [says Schneemann of Up To And Including Her Limits] involved endurance of 8 hours or more on and off the rope [and] the physical demands of supporting the body, balancing, swinging, stretching depended on a condition of entrancement." [e-mail to the author, 7 September 2010]
The taping of Up To And Including Her Limits came after an important juncture in Schneemanns life: in the month after Kitch died (on February, 1976, 20 years old, while eating her breakfast), I lost my teaching job at Rutgers, and Anthony decided to find his own loft and establish a separate life.
These small personal tragedies seemed to have resolved in Schneemann a desire for aesthetic revolt in the form of a list that she published as a kind of manifesto:
The solitariness of these [previous] works depended on my stripping away forms and dimensions I had previously worked with as Up To And Including Her Limits developed into a solo work incorporating film and the random presence of spectators, I realized my intentions were TO DO AWAY WITH:
Above: Marina Abramovic restaged her 1977 Imponderabilia performance with Ulay (shown at left) using assistants at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 (shown at right).
One could hardly think of a more radical aesthetic agenda, especially when seen in the light of recent efforts to make performance art less and less ephemeral and more and more "fixed," for example in Marina Abramovic's restaging of her own and others' iconic performaces as if they were written as "plays," and in Abramovic's recent MOMA retrospective in which her performances are repeated by assistants.
It's my view, and that of many others, that until the late 1990s, Schneemann's radicalism impeded the proper recognition of her achievement. Witness this commentary on the 1997 New Museum show:
I believe one must take this exhibition as a whole to understand that it poignantly tells us how she made a meaningful contribution to our culture which has generally gone neglected, or frightfully misunderstood. The often touted liberal-minded art world has been horribly negligent and Schneemann's exhibition gives us a fair estimate of to what degree and in matters that go far beyond the work in this retrospective. In this sense, it is a devastating and and memorable indictment. -- Ronald Jones on the New Museums retrospective exhibition Up To And Including Her Limits, Freize, issue 34, May 1997 [Accessed Online 30 June 2010]Since 1997, happily, Schneemann's career has blossomed, and we note that by 2007, especially with the production of the book and exhibiton WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, not to mention her burgeoning international schedule, Schneemann is finally getting the nuanced attention she deserves,
- Cliff Eyland
Note: Thanks to Sigrid Dahle for research assistance on this essay.
*Enright, Robert. "The Articulate Body: Carolee Schneemann in Conversation," Border Crossings Magazine, Volume 17#1, 14-27, 1997.
A Biographical Note:
Carolee Schneemann is a multidisciplinary artist whose work is characterized by research into archaic visual traditions, pleasure wrested from suppressive taboos, the body of the artist in dynamic relationship with the social body.
Schneemanns painting, photography, performance art and installation works have been shown at Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Modern Art, NYC; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and most recently in a retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York entitled Up To And Including Her Limits. Film and video retrospectives of her work have been presented at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Film Theatre, London; Whitney Museum, NY; San Francisco Cinematheque; Anthology Film Archives, NYC.
She has taught at many institutions including New York University, California Institute of the Arts, Bard College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recipient of a 1999 Art Pace International Artist Residency, San Antonio, Texas; Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (1997, 1998); 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship; Gottlieb Foundation Grant; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, Portland, ME. Lifetime Achievement Award, College Art Association, 2000.
Schneemann has published widely; books include Cezanne, She Was A Great Painter (1976), Early and Recent Work (1983); More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings (1979, 1997) and Imaging Her Erotics from MIT Press. A selection of her letters edited by Kristine Stiles is forthcoming.