Spectacle. Is it possible to talk about Carolee Schneemann’s use of her erotic body – intellectual body in her performance lectures without the audience being attracted, distracted, repulsed by images of her spectacular(ized) events? It seems that even forty years after her initial work being performed it is hard to introduce another way of talking about/seeing her creative process and performance.

I am annoyed.

I want to talk about Schneemann’s use of her body in the context of a larger strategy of excess, where her erotic body is only one element within a landscape of layered elements. Something in the way I present the information in relation to the images creates a situation that doesn’t allow moving beyond the surface of her nakedness, the assumed shock value of the experience and the inherent narcissism of the performer. Part of it has to do with what the audience brings to the environment but it is my challenge to bring people to another place, to SEE what I see in Schneemann’s work and HEAR what I have discovered about her process and potentially WITNESS the effects of her strategy in presentation. It is not a failure of the audience it is a failure in communication between us. The challenge is considerable. A naked body screams, look at me and judge me. But why can’t it also be a site of intelligent provocation? How can I explain that Schneemann was completely aware of the effect her body had on audiences and that she was trying to integrate an idea of body knowledge with intellectual knowledge?

I am annoyed. I gave her away. I served her up as spectacle and didn’t manage to convey the elements of her process which have carried forward into my own work. I don’t deny her spectacularized sexual, messy anti-aesthetic, nor do I embrace all of those aspects in my own work. I do not want to hotly defend or dismiss her work and that is precisely what I ended up doing.

When I moved off the table onto the floor, onto the scroll and into an invitation to the audience to participate in an experience of creating a “body ball” I was physically showing how elements of Schneemann’s process have come into my body and “sit” in my work. The body ball is Schneemann’s, the willow sticks, as a means of focusing on the points of connection, are mine. None of that transmission of her embodied knowledge into my own process has anything to do with how her erotic body has been spectacularized.

At the same time I am screaming inside: why can’t a person, (a woman? This probably is gendered and I am stunned that the situation hasn’t changed) Be as an erotic spectacle? Why is that experience called narcissism rather than an authentic attempt to engage the senses on all levels and challenge an audience to be “turned on” physically and intellectually? Schneemann art-life process is worth remembering for more than just shock value. There is so much more to her process that is relevant to contemporary art practices that it is disappointing when I fail to convey those things. Her early work speaks about pathic knowledge, collaboration, ethically engaged practices, feminism, multi-disciplinarity and the blurring of art and life.

What I want to do is provide an alternative reading of her work and process based on my research of her art-life process. I forgot that I have to foreground how her work is usually received and carefully explain how the images do not tell the whole story of how her works were originally presented and received. I also have to challenge people to look beyond the surface and listen to what I say not just look at the images. The images are not the work, the information I am providing needs to be as important if not more important than the images.