Thursday, 9 August 2012


'Contents of this lecture are a well-guarded secret!' warned the Summerhall programme. What would the 73yr old Carolee Schneemann, pioneering feminist artist, cat obsessive and general eccentric, deliver in her ‘performative lecture’ in the converted vet school? 

We take our seats in an authentic lecture theatre, lines of desks still intact with hard backed seats to keep students upright in some of the more soporific lectures. The lights go down; Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' comes over the stereo. And here she is, with a mass of white hair luminous before the light of the projection lamp. Clutching a knobbly branch and purposefully-nonchalantly waving a rope at her audience, she slowly descends the staircase between the desks. Has she finally lost it? No one is quite sure what to make of this slightly bizarre entrance. She reaches the stage. 'Okay, I'm in control.' she says with a mischievous half-smile. And so we are introduced to the artist’s curious and unique wry humour which lightens even the darkest subject matter. Over a career of over forty years, Schneemann’s work has addressed less than palatable issues: the falling figures of 9/11, animal abuse, and themes of gender identity which she acknowledges can be ‘hostile and aggressive’ but she twists to make them ironic: ‘I can’t be cynical.’

Schneemann’s talk was engaging, lively and personal. She discussed the iconographical importance of less obvious motifs beyond the commonly identified themes of gender identity and sexuality in her work, beginning with what she called ‘predictive drawings’ from childhood. The staircase for example is important for the moment of 'gravitational uncertainty between steps'; the cat serves as a 'central form of narrative' that 'defines space' and serves as a symbol of 'comfort and intra-species communication'. 'It's really well done don't you think?' she says of a drawing that appears to be a cat jumping out of a box, completed by the artist at the young age of 4. 'I'm very fond of it; I call it the ecstatic cat'.

Asked if she was still making new work, Schneemann’s response was incredulous: ‘Are you kidding? Does a bear shit in the woods?’ This summer at Summerhall she has created something of a sensual experience where projections overlap and bleed into one another, and the soundtracks from each of the different installations combine as a mass of clicks, whisperings and distant rumblings that fills the space. Schneemann has revisited past performance and reinvigorated their documentation by ripping up vintage photographic prints and laying them on the floor, and re-mixing footage with other, newer imagery. The exhibition Remains To Be Seen runs until 27th September.

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