This was not a “normal” year by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, among its tragedies and crises, 2022 was marked by a return to a pattern of art-viewing that was more akin to life before the pandemic. Art fairs, biennials, and exhibitions were able to run their course for the most part, and many people were able to move around the world to visit them. We are grateful for that.
In such trying times, art has a crucial function to spur discussions and help widen our view. Along the lines of this criteria, our editorial staff and contributors each highlight an artwork they saw this year that they will not soon forget.
Carolee Schneemann, Fuses (1964)
On view in “Carolee Schneemann, Body Politics” at the Barbican Foundation, London
(September 8, 2022—January 8, 2023)
This historic film work stood out within the pioneering feminist artist’s long-awaited 60-year career retrospective—criminally her first in the U.K. A self-shot video of Schneemann and her partner, the composer and pianist James Tenney, having sex, Fuses is an erotic work through which Schneemann hoped to capture a sense of reciprocal sexual pleasure, reclaiming the male gaze so prevalent in conventional pornography.
Made over a period of three years on a wind-up Bolex camera which could only capture around 30 seconds of footage at a time, the film offers multiple perspectives—the camera is passed back and forth between Schneemann and Tenney, or, at times, the viewer is offered a third-person perspective, sat on a chair, hanging from a lamp, or—in keeping with Schneemann’s provocative sense of humor—taking the low-angled perspective of her beloved cat, Kitch. The erotic scenes are collaged with footage of their house in New Paltz and placid shots of the surrounding pastoral landscape, and Schneemann later purposely damaged the celluloid film by baking it, burning it, dipping it in acid, and leaving it outside to weather the elements.
The result is a battered collage in which male and female body parts fuse into one another, and explicit moments dissolve into fuzzy indistinguishable blizzards of ecstasy. I watched it while sat in the dark next to my fiancé, and while we disagreed on some of Schneemann’s works—and this was certainly not the most controversial work in the exhibition—we agreed that, anyway you slice it, Schneemann’s efforts to convey unconscious and fluid bodily sensations, or “the orgasmic dissolve unseen,” was hot.