IMAGING HER EROTICS:
ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS, PROJECTS
BY CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN
CAMBRIDGE: MIT PRESS (2001)
Applying categories to Carolee Schneeman’s art is a bit like cooking with teflon–words don’t stick very well. For art enthusiasts who enjoy work that defies category, and who appreciate how versatile yet disciplined an artist can be, Imaging Her Erotics will whet the appetite. The book details Schneeman’s artistic voyage, from the early ’60s to the present, by rhythmically alternating between black text on white and vice versa, and fully integrating images throughout. The textual presentation reflects a career that has weaved through established methodologies without a snare, and that continues to excite the imagination.
Though recognized as a protean force within the avant-garde film, video and performance cultures which grew out of early ’60s America, the full range of Schneeman’s artistic vision has yet to be appreciated. As a seamless fusion of painting, film, video, poetry and performance, her work has always defied simple characterization and has been met by controversy at every turn. Her renowned collage/film Fuses (1964-67), for example, transforms sexual intercourse into formal and aesthetic subject matter through the use of collaged, baked and painted film stock, while many and vociferous detractors see it as just pornography. To complement the eclectic nature of her work, the book utilizes various modes of exposition, including essays (by Schneeman and others), interviews and project-generated text and imagery. Schneeman’s artistic language is shown to formally extend from her role as a painter, yet a painter convinced that psychology rules vision, and who sees perception as a visceral experience. One comes away fr om the book with a feeling of vicarious involvement and with a radical notion of embodiment–that the body’s roots extend into the materials it uses.
The book provides introductory as well as in-depth material surrounding her major projects, such as the installation/performance “EYE BODY: 36 Transformative Actions” (1963) in which she first established her body as a territorial (and spiritual) extension of brushes, canvas and pigment. In her 1975 piece entitled “Interior Scroll,” Schneeman reads from a scroll that she unravels from her vagina, unifying the acts of speech and writing with maternal, “vulvic” space. Her recent installation “Vespers Pool” (2000) has been noted for its ritualistic quality and for bringing together elements of the history of religion and women’s history, invoking archetypal symbols such as the witch and her feline familiar. Schneeman seems ambivalently lodged in a present that contains humanity’s animal origins and yet reveals a future where instincts are replaced by technology. Her artistic career is marked by a related irony: out of the process of physically affiliating with her materials comes a sort of material transcendence or transitivity. Imaging Her Erotics succeeds in rendering a picture of Schneeman as both archaic and futuristic–as both a manipulator of media as well as a modern-day spiritual medium. It tells the story of a painter whose body viscerally inhabits pictorial space.