Artist Carolee Schneemann shared some of her powerful feminist energy at the Nasher Museum this week.
She is the artist known since the ’60s for her groundbreaking work on the body, sexuality and gender. She helped invent the fluxus movement. Her famous film “Fuses” features the artist having sex with her lover while her cat looks on.
We are indebted to her dear friend, Kristine Stiles, Duke’s France Family Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, who brought Carolee to Duke. Kristine edited, annotated and wrote the introduction to the new book “Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle” (Duke University Press/2010), a 16-year project.
My first opportunity to meet Carolee was at a cocktail party. I spotted her, a fairy godmother of a woman, at the cheese and cracker table. I walked right up and latched onto her sleeve.
She looked me in the eye, eyebrows raised.
“I was hoping,” I told her, “that some of your feminist energy might rub off.”
She waited, glancing down warily at her sleeve, which I continued to grip.
“I had a scary encounter with a sexist man,” I explained.
Aha! No problem. She motioned for me to follow her.
“Come and sit with me,” she said. “And tell me everything!”
And that’s sort of what it was like, hanging out with Carolee.
Turns out, sexism is not extinct, or even in hiding. But while Carolee was with us, she seemed to keep most of those dark forces at bay.
The artist had a potent effect on people she met here in Durham.
Book designer Molly Renda created an “Electronic Love Letter to Carolee Schneemann” (above) and posted it on Facebook today. (Thank you, Molly!)
One of the Nasher Museum’s Duke student interns, Andrew Hibbard, a frequent contributor to this blog, listened to Carolee’s live interview on “The State of Things” with Frank Stasio on Wednesday and was inspired to post this simple message on Twitter: “vaginal energy.” He summed up the entire experience with Carolee just perfectly.
Later that night, Carolee waited in the back of the lecture hall, holding fast to a stick she’d found in a Durham yard. Nearly 200 people filled the seats. The lights came down and we all heard the beats of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. Then Carolee floated down the aisle, waving and drawing pictures in the air with her stick, swaying to the music, completely free.
Visitors to the Nasher Museum can see examples of Carolee Schneemann’s work in the current exhibition “Building the Contemporary Collection.” Here is the podcast of Carolee’s interview on WUNC’s “The State of Things” with Frank Stasio.
TOP “Electronic Love Letter to Carolee Schneemann” by Molly Renda. Inset screen-captures, clockwise from top left: Joseph Cornell, Rose Hobart; Maya Deren; Cornell, Legends for Fountains (2 stills); Cornell, Centuries of June, Carolee Schneemann, Fuses; Maya Deren; Schneemann, The Americana I Ching Apple Pie; Masaccio, Cacciata dei progenitori dall’Eden
ABOVE Carolee Schneemann visits the exhibition “Building the Contemporary Collection,” which includes her work. Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.