Double Trouble : Carolee Schneemann and Sands Murray-Wassink by Kathleen Wentrak

Publié le par Olivier Lussac IDEAT

C A R O L E E   S C H N E E M A N N

brief biography

Carolee Schneemann's works from 1963 to 1996 were recently presented in a retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC, selected by the International Association of Art Critics as a best show originating in a New York museum. The exhibit further confirms her place in originating issues of serious visual discourse and brought together for the first time the installation Mortal Coils (1993-94) (previously shown at the Kunstraum, Vienna), in which a slide and mirror projection system integrates 14 ropes, motorized to move from ceiling to floor, flour, sand, and enlarged "In Memorium" wall scrolls ritualizing death and loss. Up To And Including Her Limits presents walls of drawings, a 6-monitor video installation relays multiple sequences of Schneemann naked, suspended on a moving rope, as she continuously draws the web of enveloping strokes seen on the surrounding walls. In Video Rocks (1989), a flow of 100 hand-made "rocks" resembling Monet's Water Lilies, cow manure or huge cookies lead the eye into a row of video monitors on which sequences of walking feet were edited to rhythmically cross the virtual rocks.

Early paintings and constructions from the 1960s that combine elements of sound, lights and motorized objects were exhibited, as well as drawings, photographs. Films and videos of performances and installations included Eye Body (1963), Meat Joy (1964), Fuses (1964-65), Interior Scroll (1975), and Infinity Kisses (1980-91).

"Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979", originating at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 1998, features the re-creation of Schneemann's studio in which she performed the actions Eye Body. The installation and photographs will be exhibited at the Osterreichisches Museum fur Angewandte Kunst, Vienna; Museau d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and the National Museum of Art, Osaka.

Recent group exhibits include "The Bathroom", Thomas Healy Gallery, NYC curated by Wayne Koestenbaum (1998) and "Theater of Cruelty", Cristinerose Gallery, NYC (1998). Solo exhibits were seen at the Frauen Museum, Bonn; "Known/ Unknown - Plague Column" (1996) a multi-media installation exhibited at the Elga Wimmer Gallery, NYC and at Galerie Samuel Lallouz, (1996). The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, NY and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have exhibited her work. She was the recipient of a 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1996.

The history of her work is characterized by research into archaic visual traditions, pleasure wrested from suppressive taboos, the body of the artist in dynamic relationship with the social body. Schneemann's work questions the exclusivity of traditional western categories by creating a space of complementarity, mutuality, and integration and she has transformed the very definition of art especially with regard to discourses concerning the body, sexuality, and gender.

Schneemann has also published widely; her books include Parts of a Body House Book (1972); Cezanne, She Was A Great Painter (1976);ABC - We Print Anything - In The Cards (1977); Video Burn (1992); Early and Recent Work (1983); and More Than Meat Joy: Complete Performance Works and Selected Writings (1979, 1997). Forthcoming publications include Body Politics: Notes and Essays of Carolee Schneemann for M


Double Trouble : Carolee Schneemann and Sands Murray-Wassink

By Kathleen Wentrack

IT Press, and a selection of her letters (edited by Kristine Stiles) for John Hopkins University Press.

Text from the catalog for the exhibition, Double Trouble: Carolee Schneemann and Sands Murray-Wassink. One exhibit in two locations: Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Holland at Cokkie Snoei Gallery, November 18 - December 22, 2001

« I pay attention to the direction of unconscious information. There has always been something irrepressible in my work. I believe in the pure thrust of intuition, trust of the body. Putting my body in a central position in my art reveals contradictions in our culture. I resist social, erotic and aesthetic restraints, and have opened my energies to finding materials and forms which celebrate and transcend predicted directions of the work. »

Carolee Schneemann1

 

« My work is intimate in my eyes and mind, and dependent on my context, specific person, environment and lived experience…it is primarily made to add where I feel things are missing in the gay male mind of America, and to critique, comment, and touch on those things I feel particularly taboo and painful in the U.S. mental landscape. »

Sands Murray-Wassink2

 

The work of Carolee Schneemann is empowering and liberating, particularly for the artist Sands Murray-Wassink. Both artists confront issues of a personal and sexual nature, including Western cultural taboos surrounding sex and sexual orientation, especially in the United States. Schneemann dismantles taboos integrated into society's structure and psyche, principally those pertaining to women and how women's bodies "should" be contained and controlled. A feminist before the advent of feminism in the 1970s, she broke ground in the areas of painting, performance, film and video. Her work has been a starting point for many artists including Murray-Wassink who acknowledges her influence and that of feminism in his work. A gay, American artist based in Amsterdam, he questions the role of the artist, how one is "supposed" to act and interact with his/her environment while undermining taboos surrounding the gay, male body and its sexuality.

Double Troublejuxtaposes the work of two seemingly disparate artists co-existing at the beginning of the twenty-first century-the connection, Murray-Wassink's faithful appreciation of and inspiration from Schneemann and a friendship that developed over the last several years. Murray-Wassink met Schneemann in 1994 as a student in her sculpture class at Pratt Institute in New York City. Both grew up in America, Murray-Wassink in Midwestern Kansas and Schneemann in rural Pennsylvania. Both have made significant ventures outside the United States, to live and produce their work. Schneemann spent four years in England in the early 1970s. The work in this exhibition dates from the late 1970s and the early 1980s when she periodically visited The Netherlands to create and perform work in Amsterdam, Arnhem and Middelburg. Now at the beginning of his career, Murray-Wassink's production dates from almost 20 years later. Art historians have noted the general connections between the 70s and the 90s particularly among feminist artists; this exhibition takes a closer look at selected works by two such connected artists.3 Both artists share a living through the body, making art based on their physical, emotional and intellectual experiences in which they explore issues of subjectivity, beauty, sexuality and pleasure. Some viewers of Schneemann and Murray-Wassink's work may find themselves troubled by what they see, here, it is doubled.

Trained as a painter in the late 1950s, Schneemann's early paintings and constructions exhibit a tactile, physical quality, and include boxes with mirrors, lights and moving parts. By the early 1960s she moved to New York City playing an integral part in the avant-garde scene, working with dance and Happenings which she refers to as Kinetic Theater. Crossing boundaries between media, she has always considered herself a painter: 

« Environments, happenings ---concretions--- are an extension of my painting - constructions which often have moving (motorized) sections. The essential difference between concretions and painting-constructions involves the materials used and their function as "scale," both physical and psychological. »4

Eye/Body - Thirty-Six Transformative Actions for Camera (1963) is a photograph series based on an early private performance work in which the artist incorporates her body into that of a painting construction, "covered in paint, grease, chalk, ropes, plastic, I establish my body as a visual territory."5 In Meat Joy (1964), Schneemann transforms her painting into three dimensions with performers moving on stage akin to strokes of paint on canvas - painting/marking the space with the body. Fuses (1967) represents a move into film, part of her Autobiographical Trilogy which includes Plumb Line (1971) and Kitch's Last Meal (1978). Interior Scroll (1975) and Up to and Including Her Limits (1976) place her work in pivotal discussions of feminist art in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Schneemann crossed different taboo lines with Infinity Kisses (1982-86), a series of photographs documenting tender kisses with her cat. Other pieces address personal loss such as Hand/Heart for Ana Mendieta(1986) and Mortal Coils(1994), a memorial to recently deceased friends. Many works since 1990 form larger mixed media installations, such as More Wrong Things (2001), a group of video monitors precariously suspended from the ceiling or positioned on the ground surrounded by wires and cords in an eerily lit space. The monitors present montages of her performances intermixed with clips of military and human trauma; the viewer is afraid to make a wrong step and add to the mayhem.6 In Schneemann's work, it is often difficult to see where life ends and art begins.

Murray-Wassink is drawn to Schneemann's unique work not only in its incorporation of diverse materials and techniques but also its expressiveness of the body. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1974, Murray-Wassink grew up in a suppressive environment that refused to acknowledge his homosexuality and denied his physical being, an experience that profoundly affects his art. After attending Pratt Institute in New York (1992-1994), he continued his education in Amsterdam at the Rietveld Academy (1994) and the Ateliers program (1995-1996). Murray-Wassink works in a variety of media, from painting and installation to photography based body art and performance. The performance project, Sands Murray Meets Dianne Brill (1998), charts his developing friendship with the model and author.7 For the last few years, the artist has combined text with painting and photographs, the text reveals messages integral to the work as in Psychological Profile: My Gay Self (1999/2000) and Make a Wonderful (Gay) World: Neurosis (2000).

Other work tangentially relates to the readymade, such as Me/Clitoris/Dildo (2000) and Gay Emancipation/Revolution Hearts (2000), a series of seven variously sized clear, plastic, heart-shaped boxes covered with slogans of homosexual emancipation.

Murray-Wassink's most recent shows in Holland include a performance-based work Sands Murray's Personal Artistic Businessin 1997 at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam and the Sands Murray Project, a 1998 performance aimed at confronting and exposing the workings of the Dutch art market.8 Murray-Wassink's work often speaks to a homosexual audience, stating: "I intend it to be subversive and affirmative at the same time."9 The artist's main interests lie in art produced by the 1970s generation of feminists such as Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper and Harmony Hammond.10 Gay male artists of many generations have also been influential, particularly Tim Miller, Moshekwa Langa, Jim Clark and Forrest Bess. Like Schneemann, Murray-Wassink is very willing to acknowledge his process as an individual and artist and where these intersect. They share an artistic approach in which their life is their art and their art is their life.

Personal/Life Processes

Schneemann's personal experiences, and life itself, intertwine through her artistic endeavors slowly making their way into work she exhibits publicly. Her project is a courageous one. The artist exposes herself not just physically at times, but emotionally and intellectually, challenging the viewer on many levels.

 Fuses (1967) is one of the earliest and most striking films made by the artist. She explores new territory in the delicious handling of female sexuality and pleasure, and the ecstasy of a loving relationship. Filmed by Schneemann at home over a period of three years, scenes capture intimate moments of the artist's relationship with James Tenney. She was both filmmaker and participant in the action while engaged in heterosexual erotics. Some of the short montages of one to three seconds show the couple kissing, stroking, hugging, making love, and giving/receiving oral sex, while other images reveal details of genitals, scenes of their home, the cat watching, the beach, and views from their window. It feels like an album in motion yet seen through the distance that memory automatically brings to images held in our mind's eye. Schneemann achieves this effect through the use of short clips, the overlaying of scenes, and the physical treatment of the film itself-marking it with heat, acid, scratches and paint. As the artist de scribes :

« Explicit sexual imagery propels the formal structure of FusesFuses is very formal in how it is shaped; that was crucial to making it have a coherent muscular life. Visualized erotic, active bodies deflect the very structures which shape montage: viewers are distracted by the simultaneity of perceptual layers Fuses offers. »11

Schneemann captures and shares lived experience, heterosexual sexuality from a woman's point of view. No woman artist had approached sex is such a direct and liberating manner. The personal had entered the art world through the feminist art movement in the 1970s, but Schneemann was there first with work like Fuses and Eye/Body. The identity politics of the 1980s addressing issues of race and class would have been unthinkable without the art of Schneemann and other feminists. To work as "image and image maker" as she has often said, her person became integrated with the work.

At a moment in her life when relationships were in flux in 1976, Schneemann began recording her observations and those of friends. To examine layered contradictions and meaning, she developed a work that would chart the process, ABC: We Print Anything - In the Cards.

« Every dilemma of our life is in there, every contradiction. It was a wonderful piece to be able to create, because it came out of such chaos. My partner was leaving me and strange enough it seemed like I was falling in love with someone else. It was so confusing. So when people would talk on the phone they would give me advice…I would write that down and drop it in the drawer…Finally I looked in this drawer and I had all these notes piled up and thought maybe I could do something with this. »12

The work consisted of two parts: a performance presented on several occasions and an artist's book in an unconventional format. Schneemann states that her performance in Holland - at De Appel and at the Festival of Performance Art in Arnhem, both in June of 1977 - was important because it marked the full integration of three projected elements.

One element was slides of text she accumulated related to the life processes she was experiencing, the second was the accompanying photographs and a third was a blank screen in front of which she performed.

Just prior to the event in Arnhem, Schneemann dreamt of a large, upholstered, gray chair and when she arrived at the location for the first time, there it was. Struggling with the chair as an inanimate partner, she moved across, on and around it while reading the texts in a direct, unmodified voice allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions from the information presented. 

Schneemann collected cards of statements and photographs to use as the performance in ABC, which could even be described as a book in a performance format.13 

Published in 1977, the "book" form contains 318 index-sized cards arranged with one text card followed by a photograph card (139 in total), all placed in a handmade, blue, cloth box tied with a ribbon.14  Jan Brand, organizer of the Festival of Performance Art, was the driving force behind the book's publication.

The text is printed on three different colored cards: the pink cards contain comments by friends; the yellow are diary extracts and elements of her dreams that reveal truths; and the blue cards contain comments by A - the partner who was leaving, B - the one who was arriving and C - Schneemann herself.15 Schneemann intended this loose card format to allow for an open-ended reading of the work by shuffling the cards and reading them in a chosen or random order:

« I ordered the sequence very carefully in terms of elements of the time. I wanted one of the cards to say now you can shuffle. So I needed to establish an order and it has to do with certain kinds of rhythms and implications and dynamics within the statements and the fragments of the relationships. But then it's planned so that anyone can shuffle it, just like a deck of cards. You can start anywhere and end up anywhere. It's a broken novel. »

The cards, however, are numbered, so that one knows the intended order. Numerous conversations and stories intertwine and separate as a story line starts then picks up several cards later. The fragmentedness inclines the viewer/reader to make relationships between cards, and between cards and photographic images to understand the complex interrelationships taking place. But they continually change, reflecting life's processes, as if one were experiencing the relationships and uncertainties.

The photographs date from the year prior to the performance and often reference the text. For example, "A. told C., that he'd insist on just one thing - B. was not to wear his moccasins," is accompanied by a photograph of those same moccasins.

Other conversation excerpts of daily life can be accompanied by a photograph of Schneemann with A. or B. offering insight into the dynamics of the relationships.

Other images include ancient goddess sculptures reflecting the artist's research of early matriarchal civilizations. One intriguing story line reveals Schneemann's personal sexual desires.16

Other times the references are more oblique, a nude image of Schneemann is paired with "The women agreed their energies should be directed to their personal strengths and creative will, not to an idea of 'happiness.'" This type of statement is indicative of feminist declarations found at various points throughout the text.17

The title of the performance work and book offers numerous connotations. "ABC" not only represents the protagonists of the narrative, it references childhood learning and the education process of those involved.

 "We Print Anything" speaks to the unusual subject matter played out through the cards, the unfolding of an intimate and difficult moment of a relationship ending and the tentative beginning of a new one. "In The Cards" adds a sense of prophecy as if the stars knew the outcome and they could be revealed in the cards.

Personal/Life Processes, continued

Fuses and ABC take the direct experiences of Schneemann, exposing the personal elements of her life at those moments, emotionally, physically and sexually. Scott MacDonald realized the difficult nature of doing this kind of work in a culture and art world where heterosexual men often control the dominant aesthetic values. "In a culture where men still tend to be trained to deny their emotions, the assumption that the making of 'serious' art must involve a position of detachment mitigates in the direction of art produced by males."18 Schneemann counters this problematic by revealing a female subjectivity through positing herself as both subject and object:

It is more the direct lived experience that is transgressive because in male culture you can never represent yourself…the self always has to be in control and traditionally it's hierarchical so male image making has someone else be the subject. You're not the subject, you're not vulnerable, you're not exposed. That position of my work is freeing and revelatory.

Taking from one's lived experience, processing it and presenting it as an integrated whole represents a challenging and risky modus operandi. Schneemann understands this vantage point but also acknowledges what it might offer Murray-Wassink: "There're many aspects of it but I think the permission to use your lived experience and accept the erotic vitality as a key to creative vitality, that's important to Sands."

Relating lived experiences through the body and mind as a united force is a common aspect to both artists' work. Murray-Wassink's bodily and intellectual experiences form the basis for his artistic practice:

« The impulse to make my work comes out of my deep, deep frustration and anger at dealing with life and all its insecurities, but with a fierce independence at finding out how, at dealing with life as I understand and live it-and as a corollary, living as I do in a Western society not structured for/around me as a gay man with my values and relationships. »19

I'm Proud of Myself (1996) marks the beginning of a trajectory of works addressing the artist coming to terms with his identity as a gay man. In this work, he places professional photographs of himself on a coffee table taken at a moment in time when he flirted with the idea of pursuing modeling to finance his art.20 Autobiography is an important aspect for Murray-Wassink's work as it was for so many feminist artists on a wider scale in the 1970s. Feminist art of this period is a body of work that he continually researches for himself. The personal processes of life enter more directly in the performance-based work Sands Murray's Personal Artistic Business (1997). Shown at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, the artist set up shop to initiate discussions on anything including: etiquette, skin care, food, art and the art world. On exhibit were recorded conversations and his diary, which includes meetings with fellow artists, curators, museum professionals and friends. As part of this project, he had letterhead produced on which he then wrote statements such as "My sexiness lies in my self-respect" in various colored markers. A related performance-based and documented project took place the following year, Sands Murray Meets Dianne Brill. Interested from a young age in fashion, he learned of Brill through her modeling and nightclub life. Exhibited at the Vienna Secession show Young Scene in 1998, the installation documents the impending meeting through correspondence and then their time spent together in Munich visiting Prada, Tiffany's and cafes on video.21 These performance works act as recordings of life experiences but at the same time enter themselves into the very process of living.

A different approach to the personal enters in a subtler manner with SJHDMW (1998-2001). The small painting is formed with rich colors, dynamic in the movement of brushwork, as the SJHDMW appears to float across the surface. The piece constitutes a formal announcement of changing his name after marrying Robin Wassink to Sands Joseph Horwitz Dijks Murray Wassink. Acknowledging the female lineage of his family, he took Horwitz, his mother's maiden name. He adds his husband's name, Wassink, as well as his mother-in-law's maiden name Dijks. Analogous to feminist concerns, he seeks ways to acknowledge his female lineage. The maiden name has come to embody a special meaning in the United States as the code word given to credit card companies, a secret password ensuring you are who you say you are. Different from many women who have chosen not to change their names (and identities), once married Murray-Wassink and his husband changed theirs by adding the other's name to their own. In the context of Sands and his Dutch husband Robin, they are a gay married couple who want to celebrate their union and Dutch society's acceptance and blessing of non-traditional relationships, in an act impeding patriarchal standards.

Several of Murray-Wassink's works speak to gay men and lesbians in a search for a world order inclusive of all sexualities.

Homosexual Architecture: 3rd or 4th Sex(2000) consists of a canvas stretcher with the actual canvas cut out, in its place are two ties draped in an X-shape. The ties symbolize the acculturation of business and the "appropriate" outer representation, a world that Murray-Wassink resists. The suggestive title is written on the frame in marker, demanding a discussion of what constitutes being homosexual. The back contains a Walt Whitman quote: "Genius and madness are the two faces of Janus faced creativity."

A related painting, Gay Male Brain/Gay Mannelijke Hersens (2000), indicates the artist's concern with the brain and hormonal processes and influences. The surface includes text such as "homosexuals do not be sad" and references guilt and courage in being who you are.

Make a Wonderful (Gay) World: Neurosis(2000) is part of a series in which the artist makes a personal call for a fully open society with the text "make a wonderful world" in black marker. He covers the surface with patterns of text in red, alternating the words "erotic" and "erotiek." He cuts the letters of "neurosis" down the middle of the canvas in a vertical direction. With this latter grouping, Murray-Wassink is working through how he as a gay man can change the world and how he fits into what may evolve. At the same time it is a personal call to others and a search for gay pride.

Like Schneemann, his marginalized experiences both intellectually and physically shape and inform his work.

The Body Beautiful

Schneemann's use of her beautiful body in her work wrought criticism, especially after appearing nude not only in her own work but in Store Days (1962), a Happening orchestrated by Claes Oldenburg, and in Site(1964), a Robert Morris performance. Schneemann admits that her body gave her the freedom to produce the work, but more importantly it permitted the strength of the work, in essence, using patriarchal stereotypes against themselves.22 Several feminist artists in the 1970s were criticized for using their nude bodies in their work, especially if they were beautiful.23 In effect, women were not allowed to be beautiful and at the same time be successful with their work. Schneemann describes her intent:

« The life of the body is more variously expressive than a sex-negative society can admit. I didn't stand naked in front of 300 people because I wanted to be fucked, but because my sex and work were harmoniously experienced I could have the audacity, or courage, to show the body as a source of varying emotive power. »24

In the selected pieces of Forbidden Actions (1979) that are part of this exhibition, Schneemann placed her nude, beautiful body within the museum environment and photographed the actions.

Dressed in nothing but a large shirt to facilitate quick disrobing, she entered the museum waiting for the moment when the guards would change shifts and the action of inserting her nude body within the museum could begin. At the Kröller-Müller Museum, her body moved across a low windowsill and at the former Gemeentemuseum Arnhem, she stretched and rolled across an ancient female mummy displayed under glass.25

The female nude has remained a dominant motif in Western art, but often portrayed by men for heterosexual male consumption. Schneemann's project challenged this, as the artist describes:

« It was a project to invade museums and to do actions that were forbidden in museums. To take the nude off the wall, in a way to de-sacrilize or re-consecrate this iconography that was part of, locked into the masculine traditions of appropriate representation. So that any part of the feminine could accept the projections as subject. As I did with Eye/Body in 1963, I wanted to experience being my own subject and action that could also become the imagery of a work. »

Schneemann recaptures the female body for herself and other women, to be the image and the image maker. Through Forbidden Actions, she penetrates the intellectual underpinnings of the museum and traditional art history.

The choice of the female mummy in its basement location in the museum indicates the artist's interest in women of ancient cultures and how these histories have often been repressed. It must be stated that this daring work would have been inconceivable in the United States as Schneemann indicates:

« It would have felt too fraudulent, I would have felt that I would have been taken to prison here. I would have been prosecuted for obscenity. Whereas I might have gotten in trouble in Holland, it seemed like there might be a reasonable discussion as the outcome of my transgression. It's not a punishing culture despite its underlying Calvinist roots. And whether your lace curtains are open or closed. »26

The private performances in Holland are part of a larger group of actions that took place at other museums including the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, in addition to several other events including a birthday party for Hermann Nitsch at a popular restaurant in Arnhem. The images of these actions were often reintroduced into the museum context via lectures Schneemann was invited to give, as with Home Run Muse (first performed in 1977). The photographs also developed into a rich body of silkscreens. Two prints in the exhibition include images taken in the Dutch museums, each produced using a detailed five-layer silkscreening process. Forbidden Actions, No.1 is composed of six photographs of the artist's nude body shot from within the museum in front of a windowsill. Arranged in a loose three-by-two grid format, three images include Schneemann's whole body while the lower three are closer, cropped views of the same images. Forbidden Actions, No.2, follows a similar loose grid format with the top four images of the artist's body interacting with the female mummy. The images repeat in a different order in second row and in two cases the images were rotated 180 degrees. The photographs are layered with silkscreened markings similar to paint strokes in subtle tones of pink, green, purple and blue. These layers add surface energy to the bodies caught in action-taking control of the female nude in the museum space. With Forbidden Actions, Schneemann symbolically undermines the patriarchal structures of Western culture which have too often defined images of the female body and traditional standards of beauty.

Murray-Wassink engages other cultural structures, questioning definitions of men and the masculine and how this affects the gay body. He crosses boundaries between the masculine and feminine creating a more fluid border than is traditionally permissible. In addition to taking these issues to task, the artist confronts something else: his gay self and how that functions within a gay subculture. The series of photographs composed by the artist and photographed by Paul Koeleman, Erotic Homosexual White Western Male Artist Self Nude (2000/2001), marks a breakthrough for Murray-Wassink professionally and personally. Issues of longstanding concern to the artist emerge. He believes that in America, one is taught to respect people that are attractive, yet, while growing up in Kansas he was told he was not one of those beautiful people. Instead, he associated shame with his own body and its physical functioning. Murray-Wassink believes that within a gay male culture, men's bodies are often severely scrutinized and he was particularly affected by this objectification.27 Exposing his body through these photographic-based works provided an outlet for the artist's acceptance of his own body. In Number One of the series, the artist is viewed from behind, legs spread apart, and bent over with his left hand touching the sloping white background.28 He turns to one side facing the camera/viewer, exposing his scrotum and anus, his sexual orifice. There is pleasure in this self-revelation and acceptance of his body as an integral facet of his sexuality. In Number Two, Murray-Wassink sprawls his body over luscious, red satin reminiscent of a Marilyn Monroe image. On the surface of both photographs are the words "gay," "white" and "blank," blank meaning white in Dutch. Blank could also be read in English as "fill in the _____," allowing room for the viewer's interpretation. Extremely cognizant of his sexuality, Murray-Wassink feels it crucial that the viewer know what that body represents, "gay," in its particularities. He has recently come to accept that he is attractive enough to be able to use his body in what he believes is a potentially subversive manner.29

The role of beauty in Western culture and the artists' focus on these issues reveals something else at work. Joanna Frueh often discusses beauty in her writings, understanding that "discussing beauty is taboo. It is a sacred and forbidden subject because female beauty as it has been constructed in Western culture is a paradox-necessary for women yet impossible to achieve."30 It is in ideal beauty where the paradox lies, for ideal beauty is a disembodied beauty, it lacks a real, functioning body. Frueh proposes a different concept of beauty, "monster/beauty" which is "the flawed and touchable, touching and smellable, vocal and mobile body that, by exceeding the merely visual, manifests a highly articulated sensual presence."31 Monster/beauty is in no way abject, quite the contrary, it is "an extremely articulated sensuous presence, image or situation in which the aesthetic and the erotic are inseparable."32 The vision of rewriting the concept of beauty as a body with a mind and physical experiences provides a space in which women (and men) can truly function as whole persons and aptly describes the project that Schneemann has embarked upon since Eye/Bodyin 1963. Furthermore, it helps explain the resistance that often confronts Schneemann's work, for "monster/beauty destabilizes both the image and ideology of female beauty"33 and this ideology is deeply embedded in the visual constructs of Western society.

The discussion of monster/beauty can be applied to Murray-Wassink, as he feels pressured from within the gay subculture to conform to particular standards of beauty. Ideals of beauty tied solely to the outer body are difficult to maintain for Murray-Wassink who is the embodiment of monster/beauty. The aesthetic and erotic are inseparable for him and it is this aspect of Schneemann' work which has inspired him through his own explorations. Moreover, gay sexuality itself "destabilizes both the image and ideology of female beauty" as it undermines the heterosexual binary structure still at the core of Western society.34

Only recently has Murray-Wassink come to realize and appreciate his body, yet it is a body that he pampers as is evident in Makeup Case (1995-2001). A black, five-shelved unit - too large to ever be carried as a makeup case - contains a variety of beauty products, from creams and ointments to nail polish and blush, collected over a six-year period. This could be viewed as succumbing to societal pressures to remain beautiful and young. Frueh builds on the concept of monster/beauty with the idea of regulation, that is, using beauty products, "sometimes regulation produces aesthetic/erotic comfort, a necessary balance that lessons painful obsessiveness or that permits a woman to finally understand, with joy, that she is beautiful…that she has discovered monster/beauty by learning to build the body of love."35 Murray-Wassink similarly makes use of these products to form his "body of love," the work expressing his lived experiences as a gay man and coming to terms with this identity.

Psychological Profile: My Gay/Homosexual Self(1999/2000) reveals Murray-Wassink working further with the surface of the body. On a photographic self-portrait printed on aluminum, the artist wrote a stream of consciousness in black marker that voices ideas of his subjectivity and how it has been formed and influenced. With his image blurred, it is difficult to see the side of his face under the visual rhythms of the text. Not unrelated to the marking of makeup on a face, but instead of the outer beautification of the body's surface, it is an opening to the interior mind of that face.

Another element of monster/beauty aptly relates and connects these two artists: messiness.36 The ideal beauty is neat, clean and tidy. The physicality of the monster/beauty denies that possibility in its very natural corporeality. Frueh discusses messiness in relation to modernism stating that: "The woman artist who 'makes a mess' has not experienced success equal to men's. This is because tidiness has been and remains a norm imposed by culture on women." Schneemann herself realizes the conundrum, "We're implicitly messy so we better get cleaned up and not like the men."38  Schneemann's hand markings on film as in Fuses or in the prints of Forbidden Actions, could be labeled as messy. It is acceptable for men to mark the surface, it is interpreted as a heroic gesture, viewed as phallic in its mark making. Women are not allowed the same freedom. Her early work exceeded the boundaries of the canvas to include her body as in Eye/Body and the stage of Meat Joy is a three-dimensional painting. Her body as her art is not sanitized, the image of beauty which society designates for women is uncontainable. Adding to the messiness are the fluid boundaries of Schneemann's work, not only in her unique combination of media, but in the indistinguishable boundary between her art and her life, and the fluid boundaries of the female body. Murray-Wassink refuses confinement of his body within traditional heroic, heterosexual, male imagery. In exceeding these boundaries, he too is messy, as Schneemann noted:

« That's what I was recognizing when he was my student. He was all about spillage and seepage and everyone was trying to get him back in the quadrant and I thought that it was just perfect. Let him spill and seep and envelop and overcome space. » 

Sexuality-Eroticism-Pleasure

Traditionally, women have been defined in terms of heterosexual male desire. Schneemann has actively tried to turn the tables-not to invert one for the other but to make heterosexual female desire, sexuality and experience part of the equation. "I wanted to put everything in Fuses that seemed normal and ordinary. Then I edited sequences so that whenever you were looking at the male genitals it would dissolve into the female and vice versa; the viewer's unconscious attitudes would be constantly challenged."39 Female sexuality and pleasure has too often been represented and defined according to heterosexual male desire: not female desire, gay or straight. Schneemann describes some of the first reactions to Fuses

« After one of the first screenings of Fuses, a young woman thanked me for the film. She said she had never looked at her own genitals, never seen another woman's, that Fuses let her feel her own sexual curiosity as something natural, and that she now thought she might begin to experience her own physical integrity in ways she had longed for. That was 1967. »40 

Schneemann has explored female sexuality, taken control of it, and celebrated it. This is empowering to heterosexual women. No guilt, no shame, no hiding it.

Interior Scroll (1975) is based on research into "vulvic space" that Schneemann began in 1960 and included the study of symbols in ancient civilizations.41 Her thoughts developed: "I though of the vagina in many ways - physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstacy [sic], birth passage, transformation. I saw the vagina as a translucent chamber of which the serpent was an outward model."42 The performance began with Schneemann undressing and wrapping her body in a sheet. She read from her book Cézanne, She Was Great Painter, then dropped the sheet and covered her body in broad strokes of paint along its contours. After which she extracted a scroll from her vagina and read a text from her work Kitch's Last Meal (1973-1978). The text addressed how a filmmaker viewed her and her work and his misunderstandings of both. This latter part of the performance is based on Schneemann's understanding of "interior knowledge" and how she "related womb and vagina to 'primary knowledge.'"43 This work looks to the female body and female sexuality as a source for creativity, an aspect that runs through much of Schneemann's work.

Schneemann performed Fresh Blood-A Dream Morphology in Middelburg in 1981. The work constitutes a process of researching blood taboos and symbols which stem from a menstrual dream.

In the dream, she was sitting with three men in a taxi when one of them pointed to his thigh because he thought he was bleeding. She fears she has accidentally stabbed him with her umbrella producing the spurt of blood. She then receives a bouquet of dried leaves with dolls' heads in it from her lover. The umbrella and the bouquet form the basis of her research, "As I drew the two dream objects I saw they were linked by an archaic symbol of the female sex: an incised V."44

For the visual aspect of the work, she realized that menstruation was considered too debased in American culture, "I decided that my approach to its visual associations would be layered and suggestive. Therefore, I built the visual vocabulary and narrative content…on associations with the vulvic "V" symbol."45 She researched forms from nature, science, sacred religions, popular culture, and even Tantra couples whose intertwined bodies formed vector shapes, these diverse forms reveal a relationship to the vulvic V, symbolism the artist relates to the female body. She produced drawings based on these images which form the visual space via slides in front of which she performed with a clear umbrella. In tandem, she formed a lecture on blood taboos from a feminist perspective "to attack and dismantle and rearrange Freudian theory once again."

The performance consisted of two parts: the first a taped monologue by Schneemann with her silhouetted body moving with a clear umbrella in front of the morphology of vector forms and the second a live text in which she reads the dream.46 The second part includes a black woman who Schneemann dreamt of as her double and includes interactions between the two.47

The taped text contextualizes the images, addressing the relationships between the images and female sexual experience, for example:

« The permutations of the umbrella emerge from female sexual, sexual experience and painterly, painterly tactile signification, tactile signification of body object material, the mythic attributes, attributes draw on feminist research in archeology the organic structural energies relate to, relate to morphology of form, form. »48

Schneemann's other text on the tape describes how prevailing male interpretations of dreams, female creativity and sexuality have denigrated these areas of women's lives. She counters Freud's denial of the body in his "dream-mind" by describing the "dream-body," a more integrated concept. In the second part of the Fresh Bloodperformance, Schneemann reads her text and describes the connection the artist makes between the dream object of the umbrella and its relationship to both "cunt and cock."

She further points to the symbolism of blood: to a woman it represents blood nourishment and birth but to a man "he has to be 'wounded' to bleed." She argues that some men project this on women and men associate female menstrual bleeding as injury inside. Schneemann's text reveals another issue: "Distortion of desire, pleasure mutuality drained into overdetermination of cock-weapon" --- meaning that violence is directed towards women through rape.

This complex work - the surface is only scratched here - takes images of women pervasive in media, education, religion and popular culture and moves towards a symbolism of women and their sexuality which counters the phallic order. Schneemann's work celebrates female sexuality as a source of energy and creativity. For many, this is difficult to take as Frueh describes, "Neither indecent, imprudent, immodest, nor brazen, Schneemann's pleasure is unashamed. It only appears arrogant in an art world that likes its pleasure cut by irony, ambiguity, danger, or past pain, that elevates an abject or grotesque aesthetic, so that an aesthetic of unadulterated pleasure in an aphroditean body is 'too much' because it is more than many of us can imagine to be possible for ourselves."49 In response to queries about audience reactions to Fresh Blood, Schneemann describes her experience in Holland:

« The Dutch are so special. The audience for Fresh Blood in Middelburg was the most intelligent audience I have ever had, ever. We had a discussion afterwards - which is hard for me because I am often in another realm but somehow it was possible. The questions and the directions of the audience all had to do with the embedded symbology. They had an amazing range of reference that was coherent with what my research and motives were. We were able to talk about prehistoric art, about blood taboos, about non-Western cultures, about dreams. It was just astonishing, it was fluid, it was comfortable and deliciously enlightening for all of us and I was completely amazed…It was very straightforward and warm. »

The manner in which Schneemann references her body very directly, physically, tactilely against a male dominated system informs Murray-Wassink's work and provides him with a reference point to work against the dominant modes of sexuality. Her approach interests him in its "direct referencing of the genitals and an eroticized body without shame."50 More directly, he states, "It is also very important to me how Carolee treats the presentation of the female genital-it inspires and has inspired me to think of ways of presenting and dealing with my own genital, and in my case the extended reference of my 'asshole' as my sexual orifice and the feelings surrounding it."51 The previously discussed Erotic Homosexual White Western Male Artist Self Nude (2000/2001) series is viewed by Murray-Wassink as a significant breakthrough in processing his sexuality. In terms of using text such as "gay" on the surface he describes:

« I personally think it is important to define it for myself, otherwise I feel my identity is too undefined for myself and what I want. I feel right now that the "blurring" mentioned in America between sexualities and "fluid sexuality" are ways of avoiding the real existence of homosexual men and lesbians for a start. I don't mean to create binary oppositions of judgement, but men and women are understandable definitions for most of the world, so I feel I have to start somewhere, otherwise it's just hetero men and women and "other" and this doesn't sit well with me… » 52

The artist is working through his own understanding of sexuality and how that functions within American and Dutch society.

In the photograph, the direct confrontation with the homosexual body represents the most difficult for the general public to accept in regards to homosexuality, the taboo of anal sex and its specific exchange of fluids. Through directly exposing his penis, testicles and anus, Murray-Wassink tries to remove taboos associated with the gay male genital.

Murray-Wassink believes that America makes gay men sexless by not acknowledging their sexuality and relationships, such as denying the existence of such a relationship through forbidding marriage and partner benefits.53 To undermine this problem, he explains that "I want to present myself as threateningly normal." Murray-Wassink explores ways in which gay sexuality is not seen as abhorrent and deviant but normal. At the same time, the series recognizes homosexual desire and sexuality and takes pleasure in the erotic energy that his body offers.

Me/Clitoris/Dildo (2000) crosses borders and taboos in complicated ways. A purchased, and used, dildo lies in its original clear plastic box with "ME" written on one side in red marker and "CLITORIS" on the other in dark blue marker. In making this work Murray-Wassink was thinking about his own sexuality and it representing his interior/rectum.54 When questioned about the motives and effectiveness of the work, he responded that it was an experiment of pushing the envelope after long discussion with his sister about life, women and equality. Using the word clitoris could be viewed as a simple reductionism of female sexual organs-equating the penis with the clitoris. However, the artist's motives were different:

« I feel that writing "clitoris" on the dildo with "me" refers to something that I do often. Commenting in the first instance more on the ignorance I see in men and trying to make men relate to anatomy outside of their own - I think it relates to my own conditioning and frustration at not being adequately informed about the female anatomy, and my frustration at how this limits my emotional and communicative response to and understanding of women. »55

For Murray-Wassink, the work addresses a reverence for what women, lesbian and straight, have done and their own uniqueness. He is clearly aware that he has crossed a line but it is part of his experimental process and helps him deal with questions he feels need to be addressed.

The End/The Beginning

Schneemann and Murray-Wassink take the body of the artist, themselves as producers of images and meaning, and place themselves in the position of object in their work. They choose subject matter in which the body of the artist and the social body interact, They aim to liberate sexuality, eroticism and pleasure for themselves as part of a larger project to infiltrate established psychological and societal structures in regards to sexuality. More than most contemporary artists, they undermine the mind/body split of traditional Western thought. Double Trouble provides a fertile juxtaposition of two bodies of work, putting unlikely artists together, an original feminist with a gay male artist of a later generation. These types of investigations can only help further our understanding of art, specifically, and social conventions, in general.

When studying art history at the University of Amsterdam a fellow student asked what I was specializing in? When I answered feminist art, I was told it was passé and had been done. I wondered what world he was living in. While so much has been accomplished, the work is not done. Things still have not changed to bring about true sex and gender equality. The current exhibition offers a glimpse at two artists' work: one who has accomplished so much in her long productive career, but without the proper acknowledgment; the other, a young gay artist who mines her history and that of feminism for new explorations to open our eyes and change the world. A big task still lies ahead of us all.


1 Carolee Schneemann, Statement from the artist, October 10, 2001.

2 From an email conversation with the artist on September 30, 2001.

3 The concept of the exhibition was Murray-Wassink's and it was his endless energy that made it possible; Schneemann coined the title. The 1990s interest in 70s feminism in art could be characterized as an historical amnesia. Many feminist artists have been written out of many art histories and younger artists must learn of their work on their own. 

4 Schneemann, Carolee.  More Than Meat Joy: Complete Performance Works and Selected Writings. Kingston, New York: Documentext, 1997 (1979), 10.

5 Schneemann, 1997, 52. On a flyer for Eye/Body it is, deservedly, referred to as the origins of body art.

6 The work's poignancy seems ever so strong in a year ending with so much uncertainty, turmoil and trauma.

7 Brill is known for her book Boobs, Boys and High Heels or How to Get Dressed in Just under Six Hours. London: Vermillion, 1992.

8 The Bureau Amsterdam show was curated by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen. The Sands Murray Projectwas arranged by Tijmen van Grootheest and the Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst.

9 From an email discussion with the author, September 30, 2001. Murray-Wassink's personal Web site is a continual work in progress, where he reveals personal correspondence and free association texts. His husband, Robin Wassink-Murray, created his Web site and is integral to the artist's creative process.

10  While many male artists, gay and straight, have taken from feminism, and Schneemann in particular, Murray-Wassink is one of the few who acknowledges that fact.

11 Haug, Kate. "Interview with Kate Haug." In: Carolee Schneemann. Imaging her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2001, 21.

12 Taken from an interview with Schneemann by the author on September 21, 2001. Unless otherwise noted, all Schneemann quotations are taken from this interview.  Comments and thoughts for ABC collected by Schneemann between March and November 1976.

13 As the critic Michael Gibbs noted of Schneemann's approach in 1977, "Taking the book into the performance arena (rather than making a book from a performance) does seem to offer a new direction for the art of the book…The book of this piece is already complete: it is the piece." In: "Everything in the art world exists in order to end up as a book." Art Communication Edition 6, July 1977.

15ABC: We Print Anything - In the Cards. Beuningen, Holland: Brummense Uitgeverij Van Luxe Werkjes, 1977.

15 A=Anthony McCall, B=Bruce McPherson. 

16 See cards 39, 77, 92, 107, 123, and 151. As part of the exhibition and a special selection from the work, five of these text cards were enlarged and printed on Plexiglas panels each positioned in front of a photograph from the book.

17 It should also be noted that statements from this work often contain loaded meanings about life, women's condition in society, etc. and could be seen as a precedent for the text-based work of artists such as Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger.

18 MacDona

ld, Scott. "The Men Cooperated." Afterimage, Vol. 12, No. 9, 12. Schneemann also has a silkscreen based on ABC and the relationships titled The Men Cooperate.

19 From an email conversation with the artist on September 30, 2001.

20 An altered version of this work appeared at Murray-Wassink's last New York group show at the Sean Kelly gallery in 1998 curated by Jens Hoffmann entitled contemporary.self.portraits.

21Young Scenewas curated by Kathrin Rhomberg.

22 "Carolee Schneemann: Disruptive Consciousness." Lecture by the artist, The 2001 National Graduate Seminar, Performance: A Photographic Perspective, New York University, June 7, 2001.

23 For an example of this issue, see Lippard's early discussion of Schneemann and Wilke in "The Pains and Pleasures of Rebirth: European and American Women's Body Art." From the Center: Feminist essays on women's art, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976, 125-126. Kristine Stiles also discusses the problem of Schneemann's nude body in her work, see: Stiles, "Schlaget Auf: The Problem with Carolee Schneemann's Painting." Carolee Schneemann: Up To and Including Her Limits. New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996, 15-25.

24 Lippard, Lucy. From the Center: Feminist essays on women's art, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976, 126. From a 1968 quote by Schneemann from her book Cézanne She was a Great Painter, 1975.

25 As Schneemann recounts, a number of mummies were discovered for which numerous museums were bidding. "All the big male mummies went to big, major museums and little Arnhem ended up with a female mummy in the basement kept under glass." 

26 In an interesting twist to the work, Schneemann later discovered that while she was doing her work in the museum, the guards had actually gone to the basement to watch her on the security cameras, having a secret around her secret and allowing her to do her work. Later, she gave a lecture starting the work Home Run Museat the Gemeentemuseum Arnhem using the images from her intervention. The museum director was horrified at discovering this happened at the museum, feeling that Schneemann was "about to make this outrage in front of the gentle, thoughtful public." From an interview with the artist, September 21, 2001.

27 This emphasis on the exterior, physical beauty is not unrelated to societal pressures many women feel via the media. Artist comments and ideas based on an interview on September 10, 2001. Quotes by Murray-Wassink are from this interview unless otherwise noted. 

28 Murray-Wassink views the sloping white background as a form similar to Schneemann's space used for Up to and Including Her Limits (1973-76).

29 Murray-Wassink looks to Schneemann and Wilke for inspiration for this type of work. The artist is also aware of his race as a white man and what that represents within societal structures and ardently hopes his work will speak beyond that. In regards to his body within a gay male culture, he believes he represents the feminine "type" of gay men, not a muscular type to be confused with a heroic body-builder type. 
This work could be placed within the context of other gay artists who make photographic self-portraiture such as Robert Mapplethorpe or in the context of male artists who use their nude body in performances, such as Vito Acconci or Robert Morris, both heterosexual in this case. However, Murray-Wassink does not feel that his work has anything in common with them. Instead, he feels much closer to the work of feminist artists, lesbian and straight. For him, it is about intention, he states "I would like the word 'human personality' to replace the word 'artistic talent.'" (From an email with the author, October 10, 2001.)

30 Frueh, Joanna. Monster/Beauty: Building the Body of Love. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2001, 3.

31 Ibid, 2.

32 Ibid, 11.

33 Ibid, 13.

34 This essay can only point to these very complicated issues and cannot adequately address them within the scope of this text.

35 Frueh, 2001, 10. With this discussion, I in no way mean to conflate gay men with women, rather, I am only indicating connections in their lived experiences.

36 Frueh discusses messiness and Schneemann in this respect in "Making a mess: women's bane, women's pleasure." In: Katy Deepwell, ed. Women Artists and Modernism. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1998, 142-158.

37 Ibid, 142.

38 From an interview with the author on September 21, 2001. Unless otherwise noted, all Schneemann quotations are taken from this interview. 

39 Haug, 2001, 33.

40 Schneemann, Carolee. "Notes on Fuses" (1971) in: Schneemann, 2001, 45.

41 See "Interior Scroll" in Schneemann 1997 (1979), 234-239. She performed the work in 1975 at "Women Here and Now" and in 1977 at the Telluride Film Festival.

42 Ibid, 234.

43 Ibid, 234.

44 Schneemann. "The Blood Link: Fresh Blood - A Dream Morphology and Venus Vectors." Leonardo. Vol. 27, No. 1, 23.

45 Ibid, 23-26.

46 While the performance changed slightly from venue to venue, the basic format I follow here is from her performance booklet, Fresh Blood - A Dream Morphology. Carolee Schneemann, 1981. 

47 On most occasions that she performed Fresh Blood, she sought a volunteer from the local community to participate as the black woman companion.

48 Schneemann, 1981, unpaginated. Additional quotations from the text of the performance are from this publication.

49 Frueh, 2001, 31

50 From a telephone discussion with Murray-Wassink, August 19, 2001.

51 From an email discussion with Murray-Wassink, August 13, 2001.

52 From an email discussion with the artist, September 30, 2001. 

53 However, there is also a part of American society that sees gay men as sex driven. It must be noted that many straight Americans are not homophobic and see homosexual relationships as "normal."

54 He was inspired by Schneemann's Interior Scroll (1975).

55 From an email discussion with the artist, October 2, 2001.


Kathleen Wentrack, Independent Art Historian, New York City

I would like to thank John Hughes and Debra Wacks, and of course Carolee Schneemann and Sands Murray-Wassink.

Carolee Schneemannwas born in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania. She lives and works in New Paltz, New York and New York City.  Detailed information about Carolee Schneemann, her work and history can be found at CaroleeSchneemann.com and StationHill.org. Click here for films (and films on video) by Carolee Schneemann.

Sands Murray-Wassinkborn male to Marjorie Horwitz-Murray and Ragen Murray, 17 March 1974, 1:50 am in Topeka, Kansas U.S.A., Stormont-Vail Hospital. Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands with his Dutch husband (born 1971) Robin Wassink-Murray. Younger sister, Laura Rebecca Murray born 11 July, 1978, she lives and works in Santo Domingo, Gazcue, Republica Dominicana. Click here to visit his personal webpage.

Kathleen Wentrackis an art historian based in New York City. A Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, she is currently working on her dissertation on feminist performance art of the 1970s. She has written on contemporary art and European art between the two World Wars, and teaches for the City University of New York. She holds a Master's degree in art history from the University of Amsterdam.

 

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