Seminar Notes:

Naked Action Lecture (1968) Carolee Schneemann

Caged Icarus (1994) Jeannette Angel

In 1968, Carolee Schneemann performed her Naked Action Lecture at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, England. The performance was conceived as a lecture, an academic format where Schneemann, the intellectual authority, would educate her audience on her “visual works and their relations to antecedents in painting.” She passed out oranges and described the set of slides she would show as she walked up to the front of the room. Using the nude as herself, the artist proceeded with the lecture while dressing and undressing.  At the end of the talk, Schneemann brought up two male audience members to strip and perform a collage action with her. The three then left the stage to shower and the audience watched her experimental erotic film Fuses.

Schlaget Auf! (1970) Carolee Schneemann

Carolee Schneemann is an American multi-disciplinary artist. She was born in 1940 and by the time she was 16 yrs old she was living on her own with her boyfriend, experimental music composer, James Tenney and studying painting.  She arrived in NYC in 1960 and found herself in a small community of avant-garde artists who were intent on challenging the conventional modes of representation.  Schneemann ghosted abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, slept on the floor in filmmaker Maya Deren’s apartment, and found inspiration from poets such as Charles Olson.  Schneemann had already identified her intention to expose prevailing sexual taboos and had begun working in a method which I have identified as a strategy of excess.

Newspaper Event (1963) Carolee Schneemann

36 Transformative Actions for Camera (1963) Carolee Schneemann photo: Erro

Schneemann’s strategy of excess began as a layering of content and form. She began by inserting herself into kinetic painting installations she had created in her apartment and later, during and after a deep period of involvement with the Judson Dance Theatre, she created a series of group works which integrated not only her origins in painting but also the development of her kinetic theatre, based on a sensitization techniques practiced collaboratively with other performers. The exploration was practice based research grounded in the kinds of knowledge philosopher van Manen describes as corporeal, relational, temporal, situational and actional.  Schneemann led her performers through awareness training and collaborative processes with the intention of creating work that communicated and offered up to the audience a state of open receptivity through multi-sensory environments juxtaposed with an overload of cultural referents. In keeping with the era, the goal was the transformation of consciousness.

Meat Joy (1964) Carolee Schneemann

Schneemann’s method of engagement as it played out in her art-life process was implicitly phenomenological and, as such, her work in the words of art historian Amelia Jones, “enact[ed] an understanding of the interdependence of the body-in-action and body-as-intellect”.  According to Schneemann, her enactment of an embodied (sometimes naked) female intellectual authority was aggressively resisted – especially in political contexts modeled on academic presentation styles such as the Dialectics of Liberation Congress in 1967. Her participation in the Congress was radically set against the contributions of other illustrious speakers such as psychiatrist R D Laing, black activist Stokely Carmichael, beat poet Allen Ginsberg and ecologist Gregory Bateson.  They addressed audiences from the podium in a traditional lecture format followed by a question and answer period. Schneemann asked for participants to join her in a two week workshop process which culminated in a performance on the final evening of the Congress. The performance was based on the Congress proceedings, and revealed the complexity (and dysfunction) of social relations within new left politics.  As one participated later commented to Schneemann:  “I always felt like we owed you an apology…but the disillusioning fact is that we didn’t welcome a woman taking an equal place among ourselves, we distrusted a theatrical form, and we certainly didn’t want a very young woman putting on a performance which incorporated our own words with a countering physicality.”

Round House (1967) Carolee Schneemann

While the stakes appear to no longer be as high for a feminist artist enacting her own female agency and intellectual authority in our current culture, there are aspects of Schneemann’s method of presentation that continue to challenge and surprise audiences: dissolving the boundaries between artist–art historian, art object and speaking subject, moving body and static image.

Interior Scroll (1974) Carolee Schneemann

I call myself a re-emerging artist. About fifteen years ago I was a performance installation artist in the Winnipeg art scene with an extensive amount of professional and academic training in dance, theatre and critical theory in Montreal and Winnipeg.  Just as I was establishing myself in a warm and receptive environment in the cold and harsh prairies, I fell in love and ran off to the West Coast to have new adventures. I attended a six-month program in traditional wooden boatbuilding, lived on a boat in California, got married in a community pasture in rural Saskatchewan, initiated and implemented a art/movement curriculum for elementary school children, completed a master’s degree in art history, learned organic farming practices and gave birth to three daughters at home.

All of these experiences create the foundation for the practice I am carrying forward into the present.

One aspect of my current process is the initiation of a multidisciplinary art garden project at my daughters’ school as a way of connecting with the Okanagan at a very basic level. Two years ago I arrived in Kelowna, sent all of my children off to school and wrote my master’s thesis after a seven year gap in academic production. When I finished I realized I had no idea where I had physically landed. I need to grow something, something I could eat and feed to my family, as well as develop a connection, a relationship with the soil, water, sun and air in this new place. Implicit in the activity was another need to nurture relationships with people in this place. I began reaching out to the families and teachers at L’Anse au Sable, farmers and community gardeners and my neighbours, many of whom have extensive experience in sustainable gardening and environmental practices. I found my part of my community but soon began to realize the limitations of what I was doing. Much as I love facilitating the learning experiences of the school community, I wanted to engage in the art community as well and re-emerge in that environment. Questions started to surface for me about how to articulate embodied knowledge, carry forward and reveal my aesthetic training, challenge myself and my community about issues of connecting awareness with action.

Recently I have been reading about climate change issues and solutions. The research has had a profound effect on my thinking and actions.  I am questioning my idealized relationship to nature which limits the implications of what I do to an immediate physical engagement rather than linking my actions to wider connections within diverse communities well outside of my comfort zone. I am researching reports and actions by climate change communications experts, scientists, ecologists, grassroots activists and artists who far outstrip my personal efforts in public engagement.  I often want to crawl back into my experiential bubble and retreat from these new connections. However, knowledge cannot be unlearned and I cannot ignore what I know about what is happening in the larger environment. Now I am trying to bring together my work in the garden, my need to communicate my embodied knowledge and emotional responses to climate change into my art practice. I feel an ethical imperative which alternates between creating panic and motivation in my process.

And so I proceed in a state of “strange joy and agitation….”


Walking Scroll (1994 - 2011) Jeannette Angel

Annotated Bibliography:

Angel, Jeannette Cybèle. Carolee Schneemann, Round House and a Strategy of Excess. Thesis (M.A.)–University of Washington, 2010.

Assessing Round House allowed for a phenomenological reading of the foundation of Schneemann’s art-life process and the implementation of what I identified as her strategy of excess in a political, countercultural context. Schneemann’s strategy of excess, where nothing was edited out, attempted to open up the possibility for a transformation of consciousness and brought forward Schneemann’s way of thinking about personal bodies in relation to social bodies. This thesis is an art-historical recuperation that called upon archives, personal memories, interviews and theorists to situate an episode in Schneemann’s career, Round House (1967), in feminist art history.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago [u.a.]: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.

Bateson highlighted the need for an ecological consciousness to be developed in order to keep the overwhelming momentum of technology in check. Bateson introduced a systems theory of an interconnected circuit structure of dependency and competition. In his view, three systems, the individual, the cultural and the ecological, operate through a looping feedback structure. Originally published in 1972.

Boal, Augusto. Games for Actors and Non-Actors. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Founder of Theatre of the Oppressed is community-based participatory theatre which has become a method of engagement for participants and audience around relevant local issues. This particular book is a “how-to” of Baol’s methods and contains many similar sensitization techniques as Schneemann’s Kinetic Theatre. 

Hess, S. “Imagining an Everyday Nature”. Isle 17. 1(2010): 85-112. Web. 14 August 2011.http://isle.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/1/85.full

Everyday nature, or nature in proximity, describes our relationship to nature through everyday activities and experiences in our immediate physical, social and economic environments. Hess describes his return to everyday nature through his personal experience as a recent resident of the unspectacular Midwestern US and his work in ecocriticism.  

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, and Claude Lefort. The Visible and the Invisible; Followed by Working Notes. Evanston [Ill.]: Northwestern University Press, 1968. Print.

M-P’s most poetic description of the reciprocal relationship of being in the world. Served as a foundation for a phenomenological understanding of Schneemann’s engagement in the world.

Schneemann, Carolee, and Bruce R. McPherson. More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings. Kingston, N.Y.: McPherson & Co, 1997.

Schneemann, Carolee. Carolee Schneemann: Up to and Including Her Limits. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996.

Carolee Schneemann: Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2002.

All three of these texts are the primary source material for Schneemann’s art work and creative process. Two of them are self-published and one is a catalogue from her (in)complete retrospective from 1996. Recognizing Schneemann’s self-historicizing is an important element in looking at how her work is included in art history. The influence her work has had on my practice stems from deep research into her methods and a critical engagement with the documents of her processes and her works. In November I will have the opportunity to meet the artist and integrate that knowledge into my existing understanding. My interest in Schneemann is not based on aesthetic similarities or even a determined likeness in our work. It stems from an investigation of her methods from a phenomenological perspective as an attempt to alter the view of her work as simply spectacular. 

van Manen, Max. “Phenomenology of Practice” in Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 1 (2007), No.1: 11-30. http://www.maxvanmanen.com/files/2011/04/2007- Phenomenology-of-Practice.pdf

Pathic knowledge and an articulation of ways of knowing that are qualitative rather than quantitative.

“I have the sense that in learning, our best developments grow from works which initially strike us as “too much”; those which are intriguing, demanding, that lead us to experiences which we feel we cannot encompass, but which simultaneously provoke and encourage our efforts. Such works have the effect of containing more than we can assimilate; they maintain an attraction and stimulation for our continuing attention. We persevere with that strange joy and agitation by which we sense unpredictable rewards from our relationship with them. These “rewards” put to question – as they enlarge and enrich – correspondences we have already discovered between what we deeply feel and how our expressive life finds structure.”

Excerpt from Carolee Schneemann’s More than Meat Joy, p.9.

Questions:

How does an experience of “too much” arrive, engage and settle in creative process?  This could be in your own process or theoretically if this idea is not relevant to your methods.

What do you think of embodied knowledge? Does it exist? What are the ways in which we convey the experience of embodied knowledge in theory? In practice?

How do we “grasp the world pathically” in creative research methods?

What does everyday nature mean to you?

Is context important?