Colour & Music Links

The Energies of Carolee Schneemann

It is with the greatest of Sadnesses that I learnt recently of the loss of the great inspiration and Artist Carolee Schneemann. I cannot understate what an effect Carolee’s work and her encouragement had on my own progression. Over the past ten years, my art has been evolving and becoming more about performance, evolving as it has from the synaesthetic sensory experience of colour via painting and towards involving my own body via performance and  more broadly speaking, exploring my own vulnerability and identity through my practice.

At around the time when I was starting collaborative improvisatory performances,  I became fascinated by avant grade developments in painting and performance especially by the Gutai movement and the Vienna Actionists and also with Carolee Schneemann who seemingly cut her own path. At the time there was very little written about any of these movements or artists. This thankfully has and is  changing.

The first time I saw Carolee Schneemann’s work up close was at a glorious exhibition about Dance and performance at the Pompidou Centre, called ‘Danser sa Vie’, which seems a very long time ago, but is actually relatively recent.

I had seen “Up to and Including her Limits” and had read about “Meat Joy” before, but at this particular time of my life, her work seemed to resonate so well with all that was happening and developing in my own work. I immediately bought “Beyond Meat Joy” and a wonderful book called “Correspondence Course” (Edited by Kristine Stiles) which revealed the huge depth of her work, and the endless energy and collaborations too. I became fascinated by all of her work spanning, assemblages, film, paintings, performances which spanned so many areas. Over the years  I was very surprised that despite being so well known amongst so many artists and so very influential, that her work at this time and especially in the UK seemed still largely unrepresented. For Instance In a show at the Tate Modern gallery  called ” A Bigger Splash”. A rare show about the ” Dynamic Relationship between Performance and Painting” Schneemann’s work is very lightly discussed if mentioned at all, whereas it should have taken centre stage without a doubt. I then saw more work at a (then small) gallery in London called Richard Saltoun gallery featuring work by neglected female artists.

I immediately wanted to try and connect with Carolee, and made it a priority,  and obtained her studio e.mail. I cannot recall what I wrote, but I received a quick response which was terse as I had foolishly spelt her name incorrectly! I wrote back and apologised, using the (truthful and honest ) excuse that my baby son had been keeping me up all night making me prone to spelling mistakes. That seemed to work as I received a warm response and that she was soon to come to London and perhaps to make contact when she was there.

At this time I was also trying  with the Centre of Visual Music to get together some film showings organised with the University of Oxford of which I am affiliated, and at this time I became aware that Carolee was finishing a film (Breaking the Frame) and so I made enquiries about her perhaps giving a talk about this . Unfortunately and much to my frustration this did not eventuate.

However, partly due to this , the Hales Gallery put Carolee and myself in touch . I will always remember the evening when I excitedly picked up the phone and took that call in my studio, as by now she had become an almost mythical and heroic figure to me. It was arranged that I would meet her for Lunch the next week between interviews. Amazingly, and incredulously to me,  it was to be the first solo show of hers in a London Gallery. A small show of her performance and film “Water Light/Water Needle” (a choreographed performance and film), which I particularly love, not only for its imagery, but for the unusual way it mixed music and sound, which I have since found out was in collaboration with the great composer James Tenney. Her collaboration with Tenney  I became greatly interested in, and I always felt that her sensitivity and knowledge of Music played an important part of a lot of her work. This is something I believe could be researched and written about.

Some People often say that meeting your heroes is often disappointing, but in this case, it was just a pure delight. Carolee was gentle, kind and supportive,  sharp, greatly intelligent and clearly had such a broad knowledge and voracious interest in all areas of culture and politics and life. It was easy to talk to her, and I felt we connected on a great many levels.  We talked of all sorts of things and I got a real sense of not only her love of life but also the great struggle she had experienced through her life and Art interwoven. She was an inspiration.

In the following years after this memorable, lovely meeting, ( a moment of which I now treasure) –  in a sunlit restaurant on top of a hotel,  in the city of London…. we kept in touch. Carolee became a kind of mentor and I showed her the first cuts of my latest films and images and she in turn showed me her ideas too, and then a few years ago  I helped with a show of hers,  and staged a performance in part a homage to her work at Reykjavik.  I was delighted to be invited to and to see the PS1 MOMA show only last year. I found it an especially moving experience, to see all her work finally together in one place and especially in New York. To see all that work was both exciting and

Her last message (Only a matter of months ago ) to me was heart warming and typically encouraging and inspiring …I love these works very much….Go Further, follow your energies……. Keep in touch…..( with a lovely picture of her Cat dancing with coloured Ribbons.)

I will continue to follow, be inspired and keep in touch always with the tremendous inspirational energy of Carolee Schneemann which will remain alive to me.

Water Light/Water Needle, at the PS1 MOMA show in 2018/19

POSTED: 04/2/19 6:01 PM