PRINT November 1980

Carolee Schneemann: The Woman Who Uses Her Body as Her Art

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
—Saint Matthew

And he took bread, and gave thanks and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
—Saint Luke

I HAVE BEEN ASTONISHED for years, how evanescent, fleeting, insubstantial, how ever-changing and indefinable but yet at the same time how real is the appearance of other people in any context. One is no sooner seen than one is gone. It is to stop this very well-known but seldom remarked phenomenon that picture taking has become such a modern mania. It is correct to say that photographs capture activity. As Lorenz Hart wrote of his “Funny Valentine,” “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable, yet you’re my favorite work of art.” Although he was undoubtedly speaking, that is singing, to an imaginary object of affection located in millions of houses throughout the world, one could think of this brief lyric, which has intrigued me ever since I first heard it, as applying to oneself, whose looks do not correspond to “reality,” of whom, or perhaps I should say of which, hardly any good pictures have ever been made although hundreds of images have been captured, and who is the most subtly clever, in a secret way beautiful, an aggregation of personalities, all hiding most of the time, all peeping out of this mind body all the time to glimpse the mostly inconsequential but invariably interesting motions of these millions of other less favored works of art. It would not do to express such a thought in a short sentence, but I am not certain that a long sentence will do it either. We are accustomed to attempt to think of ourselves as we think other people may think of us—as committed, dressed well, intent upon food and entertainment, ready for sex, preoccupied with work and sleepy in the evening. This is of course not the way we are, but it is what we make this inexhaustibly clever machine show on almost all occasions, millions of them every day and night, asleeping and awaking, and more than ready for more words.

As a child, I used to think of people in somewhat the same way as I now think of institutions. Of course I didn’t think of my friends in this way, because one saw them change, freak out and re-change all the time. I did not think of women so much in this way, because one was closer to women generally as a child. Actually it was men that I regarded as institutions. They seemed to have limitless resources and very little time. They could be rather amusing, but usually they were simply not there. The women used them as a threat and in my case one was taught to grow up like a man. It was not a prospect that pleased me very much because I wouldn’t be able to weep. I wouldn’t be able to cook anything but steaks. I would be obliged to sit at a desk trying with the aid of the telephone to make other men do the most disagreeable kinds of work. I would be obliged to wear the ugliest clothes, make lots of money, get drunk all the time and play golf. I don’t remember when I elected not to do that in my life, but I do recall making a conscious choice to remember what it was like for me to be a child.

As Desmond Morris has remarked, it is through the ability to remain childlike, for example, undefended by fur and still able to have fun at 90 years of age, that human beings have developed into the most favored work of art status that we now enjoy, perhaps only briefly. As Lewis Thomas has remarked, speaking in genetic terms, it is the ability of the DNA molecule to pervert itself by making “mistakes” and including them as if they were not mistakes that makes possible the proliferation of life forms that we find eating with us and within us. Or, as Vincent Van Gogh remarked, Life is probably round.

When she was a child, Carolee Schneemann became unusually interested in painting. She tried to go to museums and she looked in books and tried to read things, researching secretly the secret recesses of art. She looked a lot but probably did not consult with her friends, perhaps because she could tell that they weren’t interested in paintings. She came to one conclusion that she remembers very well, by now even fondly. She concluded that the only great painter who was a woman was Cézanne.

As her researches continued, she undoubtedly realized her “mistake” but instead of forgetting it, she chose to include it in her life and to found one of her principal concerns on it, her interest in the women forgotten by “history.” In one of her essays, written in 1965, she made a list of women and men, most of whose work I do not know, some of whom I had never heard of, but whose work revised the traditional masculine authorities whose lack of interest in female principles often became disdain and abuse. It’s an interesting list, so here it is:

Helen Diner, J. J. Bachofen, Michelet, Rilke, Gould-Davis, Jane Ellen Harrison, Robert Graves, Jacquetta Hawkes, Ruth Benedict, Robert Briffault, Erich Neumann, Marie de LeCourt, Ruth Herschberger, Bryher, H. R. Hays, Minna Mosdherosch Schmidt, Clara E. C. Waters, Elizabeth F. Ellet.1

Although there are some poets here, it’s not a list of artists. It’s a defense, like a small mound in a desert, indicating that something happened there. It’s the beginning of a study list for women, it’s a kind of feminist archeology in outline form, quite incomplete.

In 1963 Carolee Schneemann finished and showed a complete environment that she had been working on all her life, but specifically for over a year, a retrospective of her work up to the age of 23, called Eye Body. It was,

. . . a loft environment built of large panels interlocked by rhythmic color units, broken mirrors and glass, lights, moving umbrellas and motorized parts. I worked with my whole body—the scale of the panels incorporating my own physical scale. I then decided that I wanted my actual body to be combined with the work as an integral material. . . . Covered in paint, grease, chalk, ropes, plastic, I establish my body as visual territory. Not only am I an image maker, but I explore the image values of flesh as material I choose to work with. The body may remain erotic, sexual, desired, desiring but it is as well votive: marked, written over in a text of stroke and gesture discovered by my creative female will.2

Far from being Schneemann’s most famous work, or one of those that many people invaded and pursued, Eye Body was one of those seminal works that wraps up an artist’s experience up to that point and plants the seeds of their future, sometimes to an extent that, in later years, even surprises the artist. Although she credits Yoko Ono with perhaps being the first to use her body in art, Carolee Schneemann in a grandiose but also private gesture established the mode for which she became famous in the next few years as the woman who uses her own body as her art.

In order to understand the meaning of anything in this article, I think it is necessary to recall or reinvent what was going on in New York concerning art at the time of which I am speaking. Everybody was talking about Lee Bontecou, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and the dealers who were making American art secure in the market, Leo Castelli and Ivan Karp. These apparently child-prodigy artists, many of them off and running before the age of 30 years, were blinding in the brilliance of their careers. Andy Warhol, so far the only memorabiliaist among them, has written books that depict the period rather well. In A, his first book, Warhol declares that Rauschenberg is “the father of art.” Expanding the notion, he says, “if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of work I do.”3 This generous acknowledgement, although buried in a book which is almost unreadably discursive—Warhol once suggested to me that it was perhaps a mistake to transcribe his conversation with Bob Oliva for 24 hours straight—points to a generally closed and very highly competitive art system composed of high hopes and deep thoughts, as yet considerably unattained by either the more or less outright commercialism that succeeded it or by the ’60s madness that eventually obscured the sky with diamond images of evanescent dream states which evaporated into sexism, racism, and a kind of trade unionism in art. I do not mean that the mostly men in the little pantheon were either insensitive individuals or bad artists—they were like Babe Ruth caught in a winning streak. The cultural information that was still for the most part known as “painting” was fitting right into the market. From the elitism of Abstract Expressionism (which nobody “understood”), the pendulum swung into the heyday of Pop Art (which everybody enjoyed).

The thought arose that the market might be able to bear a new kind of art almost every year, but despite a spate of short-lived tendencies, artists themselves favored Minimalism—the kind of art in which as little as possible is visible at any one time. With Barnett Newman at the head of an ambitious band of much younger artists whose ranks swelled and troughed but included Carl Andre, Jo Baer, Larry Bell, David Diao, David Lee, Brice Marden, Brenda Miller, Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Kes Zapkus and a number of others, the Minimalists tried reducing art beyond recognition, a goal perhaps achieved only slightly later with the Conceptualists such as Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner, with Sol LeWitt in the lead. In short, between 1958 and 1967 there was a tidal wave of art activity in New York, much of which, it should be recalled, was composed of more or less vicious jockeying for political position, fame and riches.

Into the outskirts of this milieu crept dancers and musicians looking for scraps of good fortune and recognition. Led by the old pals John Cage and Merce Cunningham, themselves very well-founded in modern mysticism, they did really abstract work. You couldn’t tell what was going on and we learned you weren’t supposed to. Al Carmines, an old-fashioned piano player and a very modern preacher, was working at a strange and beautiful church in Washington Square called the Judson Memorial Church. Although housed in a gorgeous Stanford White basilica complete with campanile, Judson Church was more like a mission in the Africa of Atheism—Greenwich Village. The theology at this church was to let the kids have their heads. I would hazard that they did not expect what they got.

I do not know exactly what started the so-very-important Judson Dance Theater or the also important Judson Poets’ Theater. As far as I knew, I just started being brought to performances (not all of them were at the church, they were anywhere and everywhere) that were strange and wonderful mainly because they were untraditional work being done mainly by kids my own age—I was 24, unemployed and engaged in writing a long book which later became a major accomplishment. Looking back on it now, I’m surprised that I was not drawn into greater participation because it was a movement that encouraged that, but I was probably putting all my energy into writing that book, although I always loved to dance.

The first time I ever remember seeing Carolee Schneemann was in 1964 at Judson. Bob Morris, the artist, had started to do some performance works, although Carolee was the first artist to work with the dancers. Bob and Carolee decided to collaborate. She wanted to do something rich and even voluptuous. Bob wanted the Minimal tack. They did it his way. This was around the time when Morris was astonishing the art world by showing plain square boxes made of ordinary plywood painted white. The performance was called Site. When the lights came up, we saw a piece of plywood painted white, in the standard size of plywood which as every “man” knows is 4 feet by 8 feet. Bob, clad in sports mufti, appeared and proceeded to pull away the outer piece of plywood. After a bit, he returned and pulled away the second piece, seemingly the same. This he did several times. The last time he pulled away the piece of plywood, there was still a piece of plywood behind it, but attached to the plywood as if glued, was a naked, very beautiful Carolee designed like a statue. And that was it. It was a sensation, but it was not typical of Schneemann’s work. It may have marked the first time she really appeared in public entirely naked, except in her own loft. She was permitting her body to be used, she was not quite using it herself.

Carolee Schneemann came to New York in 1962 with James Tenney (originally they had been married because of the requirement of the progressive women’s college Bennington which would not permit their first male student, Tenney, to live unmarried with a woman while he held their scholarship). James Tenney is a composer and he soon made connections with people who became friends. Among those was Philip Corner who was about to become involved with Judson. Carolee’s first performance piece was done with Philip Corner and Malcolm Goldstein on Mayday 1962 at the Living Theater, which was not yet famous. Possibly because some of the dancers participated in this, Schneemann came to work with Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Deborah Hay, Yvonne Rainer, Arlene Rothlein, Elaine Summers, and others. They appeared to a certain extent in each others’ works and they worked together in workshops. There were also men on the scene, particularly Fred Herko and James Waring as well as Alex Hay, Tony Holder, Steve Paxton, and slightly closer to Merce Cunningham (who was the daddy of Judson but as far as I know never worked there himself), David Gordon, working with Valda Setterfield (long one of Merce’s company), and eventually Robert Rauschenberg himself (who had done designs for Merce since 1954). It must be remembered that this took place at the edge of the tradition of what was known as Modern Dance (done with shoes off after Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham pioneered this art as the first one dominated by women in modern times). There was no such thing already as “performance art” and art by women had to be “clearly in the traditions and pathways hacked out by the men” as Carolee Schneemann remarked. Modern Dance, though, had the possibility of female creativity built into it.

While all this was going on, Carolee was busy as a progenitor of modern art. Instead of children she had ideas. Beginning in 1962 and going on for several years, she created a series of events which everybody, from different points of view, found hard to chew and impossible to swallow.

Since she was not a dancer, she was not entirely welcomed in the hotly competitive world of minimal modern dance where the women competed with abstractions and mattresses while Carolee wanted to use nakedness, shards of glass, messes of paint, burned greasy underwear, and vulgar music. She was, to use a masculine analogy, Dionysius among the Apollonians.

Another precursor of performance art was “happenings.” These were real informal affairs. Anything could happen. Usually the performers were uncoordinated. Allan Kaprow might take credit for direction and Karlheinz Stockhausen for music, but it was all a mess. Toilet paper was a favored material and sulfur was sometimes burned as incense. Many people often left. Schneemann’s work in performance was relatively highly structured. Most of the works had scripts and most of the performers were performers—they were eager and willing to go through the paces. Also, her works were not similar to each other. Each time she did one, it was an investigation of a different idea, material, movement and so on. Carolee’s performances were most of all like paintings or series of paintings that exist now as the rather astonishing photographs of the images she created as an apparition before enthusiastic and largely uncomprehending audiences. In the context of happenings, Carolee represented the Muse of Painting in the home of the Genius of Chaos.

Furthermore she had practically given up painting as such. One of the earmarks of the tyranny of style in art which was at its apex in the hot and heavy strategies of art in the ’60s, is that you have to keep on doing it continuously in the same medium. To change media, or even the style of brushing, was to cast doubt upon the whole future of your career as a (probably male) artist, just as driving a taxi (at this same time) for four years disqualified me from any further steady office work. The artist was the producer, a fountainhead of genius as dependable as Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone National Park. From this source, the art of a few men and women was sold to the wealthy of a few countries and liquidated at a later date with handsome profits all around. The artists in effect produced the money, and the money was declared to be absolutely genuine. But the rules were rigid to secure the game.

A number of artists were not interested in fabricating money, and lots of artists were not qualified for it because they were women, or had been born wrong side up, because they had lived in the wrong countries, had too many children, hated the art world or what had they. Schneemann was one of these, a classical, large-spirited, vulnerable, somewhat automatically-behaving artist of world-encompassing ambition. So she swam against the current. She worked hard on feminism almost as soon as she heard of it and long before it became the radically chic thing to do. She went to Europe and performed before dumbfounded but respectful audiences. Then she made a masterpiece called Meat Joy that was not permitted to be performed in the nude, except in London, by a team of eight women and men, but which was a great success in Paris and New York in 1964. It was thought that many of these things were somewhat contradictory. Especially because through all this and more, up to now she had always considered herself as a painter.

Carolee Schneemann is a gestural painter working out of a tradition that is at once “literary” and “abstract.” Although her mentality is not at all “primitive” she behaves as if it were. Although she has not traveled in uncivilized lands, there is something distinctly primordial about her. Not only has she a great spirit but she has a special quality of making things with materials that most people, especially men, would consider inappropriate, at least incongruous. As if in a dream, I can imagine her mixing vine juice with blood to make paint in the jungle of an Africa that existed only for Roussel, or I should say me. Her ritual is perfectly daily, subject to somewhat large ups and downs, perhaps, but steady on in a number of fields, all of which are really the same field. In my opinion, it is not true that she works in different media, or in different ways, it is that she does her work all at once in every way she can think of. And I think it is true that she really is a painter. But she is at the moment like a master without disciples, because her products have so often and for such a long time failed to resemble other paintings.

Her first painting-collage that she still considers to be a good one was done at the age of 15, about 25 years ago. It is called Pope Still Suffering because a news headline that says that is collaged onto the painting with paint. At the time, Pope Pius XII was dying of the hiccoughs. After that she did—this is not a reasoned catalogue, it is a few notes and memories—a number of slightly Cézanne, slightly de Kooning landscapes, the more daring of which had objects and cloths painted into them. She did some nudes that were not of anonymous “models” but were recognizable portraits of her friends such as James Tenney, Jane Brakhage, and herself. This was regarded as very scandalous, in Illinois where she studied art. In New York she continued broad-brushed collages, increasing them in size and allusiveness so that they at points remind one of some of Rauschenberg’s large and early pieces. But they have a muted quality that is likely to arise when a young expressive woman strikes up an acquaintance with an old and oppressive world. In the early ’60s, when she was just beginning to get into performance, she also met Joseph Cornell with whom she had a very ethereal relationship. At that time she made a number of boxes with objects pasted and painted inside them, many of them utilizing mirrors to bring the outside and the viewer into the box with the art. She also collaged bits of fur because she had a lot of fur in her loft which she had assumed from a furrier. A few of her paintings were meant to be whirled in front of the viewer. She also made a great many drawings.

The subject matter of Carolee Schneemann’s work has always been to a large degree her dreams and the dreams of her best friends. She identifies so strongly with her lovers, their lives while she is living with them are so completely bound up together that they become almost indistinguishable from herself. For 20 years, until 1976, she also lived with a beloved cat called Kitch, a small female of the race Maltese. In a way, Kitch was her most important friend. She believes that she could understand Kitch’s language, which did not consist simply of appeals for food and for affection. Some of her most interesting early paintings are composed of Kitch’s dreams, or perhaps she dreamed of Kitch dreaming herself. In any case it was not your usual woman-cat relationship. It was much more like a sort of mediumistic relationship that takes place in the discredited occult arts. Likewise with her men. Carolee is Dionysus in camera, a great spirit in a house. All her art has to do with daily life. Supposedly never being able to “afford” gold, silver, bronze and iron, she makes do with her dreams, some glue, some paint, her cat, her lover, her friends and her unflagging energy and high good humor. Her rituals are by now well-grounded and functioning. At the age of 40, she knows herself and she knows how to be herself.

In a recent conversation, she discussed her domestic imagery, as one might call it, in connection with a project for large graphic works using photographs, developed from the performance Dirty Pictures, in these terms:

All those things have a tactile function in the primary objects—the keys, the seashell, the cup, the knife, toothbrush, the paintbrush, are all hand identified. So in trying to increase the tactile recognition of the primary object, to make that immediate connection that’s pre-verbal, it sets off another kind of equivalence to the erotic imagery. It makes the erotic imagery more innocent and also more combustible, because erotic images are always seen through a set of distortion lenses in terms of the report. If there is a linguistic scan that is reporting, not interpreting, not metaphysical, but just reporting, it seems that if I see the same thing, when someone else sees it it seems to be going through a set of distortions. The primary sexual organs carry very complicated charges and I would like to be able to strip away some of these projections so that the simplicity and the vital integral character of organs can be seen the way fruit is or seashells, or the cup or the keys. The body is innocent and these objects are innocent. I want to reach a kind of sub-connotative or visceral level when you don’t know when you look at those enlargements of the walnuts out of focus whether it’s balls or a vegetable, or when you look at the seashell it looks like the inside of a cunt—do you condemn that feeling? The primary category of what gives us pleasure and information is always being distorted. It has been my role in a way to struggle with those distortions. It’s essentially about living in a sex negative tradition where even when sexuality is seemingly overt and expressive, it’s still seen through these strange fragmentations.

In all of Schneemann’s work, sex is a primary aspect. The sexuality of her performance works results not from nudity or specifically sexual behavior, but from, in a sense, converting all the bodies in the work into sexual organs, usually with the addition of not only incongruous clothing or decorations, but also paint, grease and, in Meat Joy, sausages, chickens and raw fish (which had not been used in rehearsals and came as quite a shock to the performers as well). It is the joyousness and enjoyment that runs throughout her life and her work which points toward her attempt to research and reinvent and reintegrate the Earth Goddess aspect of human mythology which she is certain has been ritually obliterated by masculine pride and prudery.

I first wrote about “vulvic space” in 1960 as a result of an art history assignment on symbolism. I chose to do research on the “Transmigration of the Serpent,” never suspecting that the transmutation of serpent symbolism in the wall paintings, carvings, inscriptions of ancient cultures—this traditionally “phallic” symbolism would lead me to a concept of vulvic space and this in turn to . . . a total inversion and reinterpretation of myth and symbol. . . . In MacKenzie I read that: Cro-Magnon people believed in a Mother Earth Goddess; their cave paintings exaggerate the female sexual characteristics. . . . The snake symbolized whirlpool, whirlwind, cosmic energy. Snakes originally symbolized the cosmic energy of the womb which protected and nourished the embryo as they believed the ocean originally did the earth . . . 4

During the course of her “secret project” Carolee encountered the resistance of scholars for female symbolism and interpreted the repression of certain information concerning it. Some later scholars rectified these errors to some extent, but it is still true that one’s cognition of male symbology is more facile than that of female symbology which seems to be largely limited to the perception of round things, rather than straight lines, and the orificial character of many flowers. In her most recent work, however, Carolee Schneemann goes much further than the apposition of “the vagina” and “the penis.” She has come to understand vulvic space to be reversible, as the cavepersons recognized that, or as she put it,

I saw the vagina as a translucent chamber of which the serpent was an outward model: enlivened by its passage from the visible to the invisible, a spiral coil ringed with the shape of desire and generative mysteries, attributes of both female and male sexual powers.5

After 1973, Carolee stopped doing her large performance works, and occasionally would do solo work, some of which was slightly reminiscent of her early Eye Body work, in the sense that it used large drawing and her own personal nudity but with no interaction. She was going through a difficult time in which her world lost considerable meaning and her work became very private. She and Kitch lived in London for three or four years where she was permitted to do what she wanted although her work was hardly appreciated and there she met Anthony McCall who worked with film and in 1974, she and Anthony and the cat returned to New York where Carolee made a long film about their life together. Occasionally since that time she has performed a work called Interior Scroll. In this piece, she stands on a platform, naked and unadorned, and gradually pulls from her vagina a scroll, about ten feet long which has been carefully made of folded papers on which words have been typed. As she slowly and carefully removes the “scroll” she reads the words aloud, so that the interior becomes the exterior.

Her work also includes several films, of which the most famous is Fuses, 1965–68, a 22-minute, 16-millimeter film showing two people, Carolee and James Tenney, interacting. By most it was regarded as pornographic but she insisted on the neutral quality of the images. A very long super-8 film, Kitch’s Last Meal, made in 1973–78, juxtaposes images of daily life in the country with images of things that her aged cat saw all the time. This has a freer, less saturated sense than Fuses, but because it is projected with different footage on two screens, one on top of the other, there may be more of a saturation over time.

Among her most interesting works are four books, culminating in More Than Meat Joy, 1979, which operates as a reasoned and corrected catalogue of most of her work and to which this article is highly indebted. The previous book, 1977, is a series of cards set in a beautiful box numbered and color-coded. Called A B C—We Print Anything—In The Cards (ABC for Anthony, Bruce, Carolee), it is a kind of succinct novel but there is nothing “fictionalized” about it, and although cumbersome to handle, it is successful as well as a reading piece. Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter, 1974, is a collection of notes and writings and drawings, which ends on a delightful note, I think.

he told me he had lived with a ‘sculptress’
I asked does that make me a ‘filme-makeress’
Oh no he said we think of you as a dancer.

Her first book, Parts of a Body House Book, was made in England in 1972 and includes pieces of film and other physical objects.

In our conversation, Carolee and I touched on many subjects and generally got to know each other although we have been acquainted for many years. We spoke on more than one occasion about the relationship between paranormal experience and art making. This is what she said about it on one occasion:

It’s rather erratic—if I studied it more I could be more open or more sensitive. So I realized at some point that it’s like an art process. If you’re thinking about perception and material all the time, it increases your capacity to receive art information and move with it and develop it. And the same with the paranormal—visitations, strange noises and so on, and also being able to communicate through space with someone that you’re really close with. When these things happen it means a field of energy, and that one is very fragile and it’s overwhelming and if you could be there all the time you’d be devoured by it. But to be there enough means forms of concentration and emptying out—making space, that a presence might come through. It’s so essential for my work because the work comes through as something given. When somebody says to me you have to write something, I really can’t. I have to wait until it is there. All my life is sort of spent hoping that I can make a gracious enough opening through which it will arrive and use me. And when it arrives there’s absolutely no equivocation, it’s so powerful and clear. Taking it out into the world is full of uncertainty. If I have to go out and sell ideas, it can drive off that subtle, elusive power that’s going to give me a whole work all at once

For 25 years, on a more or less regular basis, things have been coming through for Carolee Schneemann, the artist. Accustomed to difficult positions—her interests crossed with the prudery of many feminists—and always going in her own direction and not that of a group, although identified at various times with various artists and groups of artists, she has created a unique position in art that is identified with that very elusive, and hard to identify true reality, her own body, her own body house, her own eye body, her dream body, her own sex. “Unsex me here,” roars Lady Macbeth with the damned indelible spot of blood on her hand, and Carolee Schneemann seems to me to be taking up this ancient challenge to the fates and to be making her life into its answer.

In the last six years, she has consolidated her position, while continuing to work. I think she is near another turning point in her life, not like the one in 1976 when Kitch died and Bruce McPherson began living with her. She is interested again in “painting” and has been looking at her old work and making new work. As usual, some of it is in writing and it is related to her dreams. Most recently she has written Fresh Blood which develops her position in connection with body art to a clearer point. Beginning in Morris’s vision as a sex object, using her beauty as a weapon, demythifying both her beauty (with ugliness) and her body (by exposure), giving rise to various modes of performance art and body art by inspiration (one might mention Kathy Acker, Diane Blell, Tina Girouard, and Hannah Wilke as well as others), pioneering the study of the history of women and female imagery in art (which she has taught at two colleges) and generally making everybody around her feel good, she has reached a point in her life where she has become the ultimate authority on evagination. This word, evaginate, I discovered by chance in my handy college dictionary while writing this article and it means, to turn inside out, or cause to protrude by eversion, as a tubular organ. It comes from a Latin root that means to unsheath.

A few months ago, Carolee Schneemann had a dream about accidentally poking an elegant unknown man in the thigh in a taxi with the tip of an umbrella and making him bleed in something like menstrual discharge. Then she began seeing the umbrella, in the dream and later in life, as a development of vulvic space, something that is both cork and bottle, both screw and bore, both cock and cunt and rather convertible one into the other. I think it’s a great idea because even though I have been disbarred by most feminists from having valid thoughts about things, I have long thought that “the vagina” and “the penis” are the same thing, and not simply analogous.

Here is a quote from Carolee’s new work:

To delineate the inter-relations structuring both my dreams and films, it is necessary to allow the “things” to be central, in focus; to keep focus on the pre-verbal quality of the objects: their entrances, durations, shifts from dark to light, obscure to specific. (And words also maintain a hypnogogic object form.) To further explain the concentration on the form of the dream-object I have to refer to the fact that my work is based on my background as a painter. The years of “painting from nature” preceded and informed the later developments of media, environment and performance. Early on I felt that the mind was subject to the dynamics of its body. The body activating pulse of eye and stroke, the mark signifying event transferred from “actual” space to constructed space. And that it was essential to dance, to exercise before going to paint in order to see better: to bring the minds-eye alert and clear as the muscular relay of eye hand would be.6

Ted Castle is a free-lance writer who lives in New York.



1. Carolee Schneemann, “Woman in the Year 2000,” reprinted in Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter, Carolee Schneemann (New York: Tresspass Press, 1974).

2. Carolee Schneemann, “Eye Body,” in More Than Meat Joy, Bruce McPherson, ed., (New Paltz, N. Y: Documentext 1979), p. 52.

3. Andy Warhol, A, (New York: Grove Press 1968). p. 11–12.

4. Carolee Schneemann, “Interior Scroll,” in More Than Meat Joy, ibid, p. 234 (MacKenzie reference from The Migration of Symbols, 1926).

5. Ibid.

6. Carolee Schneemann, Fresh Blood (unpublished, 1980), p. 1.