Boundary-pushing artist Carolee Schneemann passed on the 6th March at the age of 79. She was a writer, educator, performer, and painter best known for her explorations of gender and sexuality. She developed an interest in the body from a young age and was known for her free spirit as a child. It was during college that she began to observe the differences between men and women artists’ representations of the female body, which would go on to inform her work.
Her name often comes up alongside those of Judy Chicago and Rachel Rosenthal, pioneering figures in the feminist art movement of the 1970s. Schneemann was an artistic magpie of sorts, drawing on a range of styles and techniques in her practice including Neo-Dada happenings, emerging film pieces, and the comparatively more traditional movement of Post-Impressionism. She took up painting in the 1950s and hit her stride with performance art in the 1960s. Meat Joy, a 12-minute filmed performance created in 1964, was a celebration of the body and flesh with nude figures engaging with ropes, raw chicken, paint, and other materials. She referred to the piece as an ‘erotic’ rite – rendering it as sexual, sensual, and sacred, all at once.
“I take the position that I do not ask anyone else to do what I myself would not do and using myself as subject . . . as material (I) want to displace the power and separation of the artist from what’s made. In the masculine tradition the director, the producer is always outside of the work because he’s above it.”
Browsing through images and stills of her work, one finds a dynamic collection of work – each photo is bursting with energy. It seems like a lame pun to say that Schneemann bore all in her work, but this is as true in an emotional sense as is apparent in the obvious external sense. She opened herself up in a deeply personal, sensual way that used her body as a tool for exploration. It was a brave challenge to the politics surrounding women’s bodies.
She is survived by a brother and a sister.