Feminist Artist Carolee Schneeman Looks Backward and Forward

January 30, 2018

I interview Carolee Schneeman on the MS. Blog Q&A. Here’s a taste.

Alex: So you are saying that even though your work was eventually, if perhaps belatedly canonized within art and film history, it was appreciated for only a small prism of your feminist activity, that which focuses upon the representation of your own sexuality and body.

Carolee: Yes, a very narrow prism: the ghetto of feminism. You can have this erotic, even prurient dynamic in your work that we are going to pay attention to, but the rest of it is too astonishing, complex, and beyond our need to control how we characterize women’s work.

This is such an important insight about your feminist work and legacy; and a very painful one. Is it possible to not diminish or simplify that part of the project, the body work, the representation of femal sexuality, which is so essential to your work and so essential to the needs of women?

It is as variable as women’s experience. There are aspects of sexuality that I’ve always had to fight for that are not available erotic experiences for lots of women. There’s just so much variation that I cannot represent more than the area that I know well.

But in the show, I saw for the first time your Sexuality Perameters Survey (1967-1971 + 1975) where you you “attempt to note main parameters of lovemaking. Only from a woman’s point of view” by interviewing scores of women and documenting their detailed, intimate answers about sex and sexuality on handmade typewritten grids. I love those charts! The PS1 show highlights work you made that catalogs your relationship to other people’s sexual and relational experience as well as your own sexual and domestic intimacy with male lovers and companions, and with your cats as well.

In film I was able to most clarify this area of contradiction. The films are constantly talking to each other. The ideality of Fuses (1965) gets impinged next with Viet-Flakes (1965; a compilation of Vietnam War-era horrors garnered from magazine and newspaper clippings) and the surround of that morbid suppression of life. I still get very upset when I look at it. Then, the destruction of Palestinian culture overwhelmed all my considerations of the mid 80s into the 90s and that has no resolution. No formal political clarification. Actually it’s more repressive than ever. Now, Palestinians have no right to represent themselves in any aspect of the U.S. government. That’s just been put through as a law.

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