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Required Reading

Caitlín Doherty writes an essay on the work of artist Carolee Schneemann, using the recent London retrospective as a peg. It’s published by the New Left Review and is worth a look:

Fuses is shown in its entirety in a curtained-off room towards the end of the exhibition’s first floor; a few rows of traditional conjoined cinema seats arranged in front of a large screen with the consequence that one is physically jolted in one’s seat as a new audience member sits down. The viewing conditions alter the impact of the work entirely. When the exhibition opened in September, I attended a one-off screening of all three autobiographical films at the Barbican’s cinema. The audience was almost entirely women, an art and film crowd, who sat with scholastic intensity through the performance. In such a setting, Schneemann’s films were received as subjects of feminist critique by an audience already cognizant of their seismic influence on the development of a radical woman’s cinema tradition in America in the 1960s and 70s. I reacted with intense dislike to the films then, and to Fuses in particular, which in that environment seemed to mock coquettishly the simplicity of its central idea: that to invert men’s assumed dominance in, and ownership over, heterosexual sex it is enough for a woman to take hold of the camera, to turn it on her partner and back on herself. Schneemann filmed herself too much, I thought, gloried in her own image—just whom, I wondered, was this filmed for? Besides, is it important to have your pleasure represented, like the men do, I wondered, and is that even possible, even for the men? Why, moreover, must a woman’s pleasure be coated in so many layers of paint as to make it unplayable when she’s gone to all the trouble of recording sex for three years? I recognized only the performance of sexuality in the work, not the release of pleasure Schneemann had spent years capturing.