Friday, 21 September 2012

Carolee Schneeman - Meat Joy

Carolee Schneemann (born October 12, 1939) is an American visual artist, known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender. Her work is primarily characterized by research into visual traditions, taboos, and the body of the individual in relationship to social bodies.

Schneemann's works have been associated with a variety of art classifications including Fluxus, Neo-Dada, the Beat Generation, and happenings.

The 1964 piece Meat Joy revolved around eight partially nude figures dancing and playing with various objects and substances including wet paint, sausage, raw fish, scraps of paper, and raw chickens.It was first performed in Paris and was later filmed and photographed as performed by her Kinetic Theater group at Judson Memorial Church. She described the piece as an "erotic rite" and an indulgent Dionysian "celebration of flesh as material." Meat Joy is similar to the art form happenings in that they both use improvisation and focused on conception, rather than execution.

Writes Schneemann: Meat Joy is an erotic rite -- excessive, indulgent, a celebration of flesh as material: raw fish, chicken, sausages, wet paint, transparent plastic, ropes, brushes, paper scrap. Its propulsion is towards the ecstatic -- shifting and turning among tenderness, wildness, precision, abandon; qualities that could at any moment be sensual, comic, joyous, repellent. Physical equivalences are enacted as a psychic imagistic stream, in which the layered elements mesh and gain intensity by the energy complement of the audience. The original performances became notorious and introduced a vision of the "sacred erotic."

Michael Bracewell: Tell me about Meat Joy?

Carolee Schneeman: It developed from Eye Body, that sequence of merging the body with materials. It started with a series of dreams and drawings and was partly inspired again by Erro who knew that Jean-Jacques Lebel was going to do a festival of performance in Paris, the ‘Festival of Free Expression’, and he said ‘you really have to go there and do a work’.

I wasn’t invited, but I began having dreams of heightened physicality, a merging of bodies and materials, an activation of space and relays of unexpected, responsive, malleable materials that would be extensions of the body: the fish, the chickens, the sausages and bales of plastic and shredded paper that would be thrown over the balcony – I didn’t even know if there was a balcony – but I wanted a waterfall, a cascade of falling paper. The bodies would secretly invent themselves and would be discovered later The first sequence is very concerned with sound, with the duration of unpredictable relationships – the parameters of relationships being broken apart and reconfigured into new ones. There’s what I call the ‘reality’ figure, who kept time, introduced props and initiated the breaking of sequences so that the participants could be completely involved in one another and the unfolding improvisation of interconnected actions, developed from the introduction of materials we had never worked with before.

It was very important that when the materials were introduced they were truly startling and shocking. We had worked together for four or five weeks handling each other, moving each other around, using substitute props, so that we were completely comfortable with any kind of physical interaction – short of hurting each other or having actual sex.

MB: When I look at some of the pictures in your book More Than Meat Joy (1979) I’m reminded a little of the political theatre of Jean Genet in terms of how he’s interested at ideas of anarchy, but also extremely disciplined and controlled rituals. Is that a worthwhile comparison?

CS: Yes. Though when you say anarchy … we have a shared cultural focus – we’re not going to put up with somebody being raped or chopped with a knife. We know there’s a specific space that we’re going to inhabit and we choose to be there together because there are certain energies, indications, that I present. It’s as if the participants are entering my psyche, and they have to be willing to do so. It’s a process unlike any other; I’m not a teacher, I’m not an exemplar, but I’m a form of active imagining.

Nothing is more real than flesh. Willem de Kooning once said something to that effect. Meat art, a loosely defined genre comprised primarily of painting, performance, photography and sculpture, is one of my primary artistic obsessions.
Call it flesh, call it wasted muscle tissue. Whatever you call it, a slew of talented artists have and are creating so-called meat art and I’d love to humbly guide you their work, a morsel at a time.

Meat Joy is a celebration of the flesh as a sensual, sacred material and eroticism, physical intimacy and risk, against a soundscape of traffic sounds and pop music. This five-minute video is comprised of footage from from the restaging of Meat Joy in New York’s Judson Memorial Church and its debut performances at the Festival de la Libre Expression, Paris.
Samantha Anne Scott

“There were many reasons for my use of the naked body in my Kinetic Theater works: to break into the taboos against the vitality of the naked body in movement, to eroticize my guilt-ridden culture and further to confound this culture’s sexual rigidities — that the life of the body is more variously expressive than a sex-negative society can admit.” — Carolee Schneemann, More Than Meat Joy.

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