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Carolee Schneemann is a multidisciplinary artist known for using her body in her artworks in order to engage with issues of sexuality, gender and identity. Best known for her 1975 performance Interior Scroll, Schneemann’s work is most often theorized in connection with the emergence of Feminist, Performance and Body Art, yet Schneemann has always considered herself primarily a painter. In this thesis I address the disconnect between Schneemann’s repeated insistence on her status as a painter and the scholarly discussion of her work solely in relation to the integration of her body in her performative works. The period covered in this thesis, 1957-1963, entails the introduction of Schneemann’s body and performance to her practice in painting, and the creation of some of her most prominent works: Eye Body (1963), Meat Joy (1964), and Fuses (1964-66).
I use French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s theories of phenomenology as a theoretical lens through which to read Schneemann’s work, and address the importance of painting to her overall practice. I specifically focus on Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of materiality and movement signifying a depiction of the lived experience, found in his three essays on modern painting: “Cezanne’s Doubt,” “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence,” and “Eye and Mind.” Reading Schneemann’s work in conjunction with Merleau-Ponty’s writings on art creates a bridge between Schneemann’s relationship to feminist artistic practice and her interest in the formal aspects of painting by way of Schneemann’s and Merleau-Ponty’s shared interest in the breakdown of dichotomies between mind/body and subject/object, ultimately creating a more nuanced understanding of her work in relation to painting and performance.
Advisor: Marissa Vigneault