Not on display
This print is one of several works documenting a performance Schneemann made at Women Here and Now, an exhibition of paintings accompanied by a series of performances, in East Hampton, New York in August 1975. In front of an audience comprising mainly women artists, Schneemann approached a long table under two dimmed spotlights dressed and carrying two sheets. She undressed, wrapped herself in a sheet and climbed on the table. After telling the audience she would read from her book, Cezanne, She Was A Great Painter (published 1976), she dropped the sheet, retaining an apron, and applied strokes of dark paint on her face and body. Holding the book in one hand, she then read from it while adopting a series of ‘life model “action poses”’ (Schneemann in More Than Meat Joy, p.235). She then removed the apron and slowly drew a narrow scroll of paper from her vagina, reading aloud from it. Tate’s print comprises two black and white photographs of the artist on the table during the second part of the performance when she was withdrawing the scroll. A column of text on either side of the photographs elaborates the words written on the scroll. The text was taken from a super 8 film Schneemann had begun in 1973 entitled Kitch’s Last Meal. It recounts a conversation with ‘a structuralist film-maker’ in which the artist sets intuition and bodily processes, traditionally associated with ‘woman’, against traditionally ‘male’ notions of order and rationality. Critics originally identified the male figure as the filmmaker Anthony McCall (born 1946), who was Schneemann’s lover between 1971 and 1976. McCall took the photographs which were used to make the print. In 1988 the artist revealed that the text is a secret letter to the American critic and art historian Annette Michelson who, Schneemann claimed, couldn’t look at her films (Schneemann, p.319). It was produced in an edition of three. Tate’s copy is the first of two additional artist’s proofs. It was printed by Eagle Photography, Union Square, New York City and published by the artist. Schneemann brushed and splashed beet juice, urine and coffee over the print. The colour intensity of these has faded over time.
Schneemann trained as a painter during the 1950s at Columbia University, New York City, Bard College, New York and the University of Illinois, Urbana. Although her reputation as an artist was built on her pioneering work in performance and film, she thinks of herself as a painter. Her radical early performances, Eye Body 1963 and Meat Joy 1964, brought first the artist’s naked body and then the semi-naked bodies of a group of young performers into the expressive realm of the painter’s canvas. In New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such artists as Alan Kaprow (born 1927) and Jim Dine (born 1935) were attempting to break down the traditional distinctions between life and art by organising ‘Happenings’. In these events, the arena of canvas traditional to painting was extended into three-dimensional space through the creation of environments, which the audience was frequently invited to enter. In such films as Fuses 1964-7 (based on footage of Schneemann and her partner making love) and in many of her later performances, Schneemann insisted on the body as explicitly sexual. Her refusal to divorce sexual experience from art making was intended as a return to the body as a source of knowledge and experience (as the artist perceived it to be for archaic cultures) and to unify its internal energies with the visual information it provides. In the context of the women’s movement in the 1970s, Schneemann’s performances introduced the body of the female artist as the source of her creative and imaginative energy as well as the site and subject of the work. Interior Scroll was a culmination of Schneemann’s thinking about ‘vulvic space’. She wrote:
I thought of the vagina in many ways – physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstacy, birth passage, transformation. I saw the vagina as a translucent chamber of which the serpent was an outward model: enlivened by its passage from the visible to the invisible, a spiralled coil ringed with the shape of desire and generative mysteries, attributes of both female and male sexual powers. This source of ‘interior knowledge’ would be symbolized as the primary index unifying spirit and flesh ... the source of conceptualising, of interacting with materials, of imagining the world and composing its images.
(More Than Meat Joy, pp.234-5)
Interior Scroll was performed a second time at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado in September 1977. Invited by film-maker Stan Brackage (1933-2003) to introduce a programme of erotic films by women, Schneemann was dismayed to discover that the programme had been titled ‘The Erotic Woman’, placing her and others’ subversive material under a stereotyping umbrella. In order to shift the emphasis back to a broader sense of female eroticism, she decided at the last minute to perform Interior Scroll, introducing the possibility of an erotic woman who may be ‘primitive, devouring, insatiable, clinical, obscene; or forthright, courageous, integral’ (Schneemann in More Than Meat Joy, p.237).
Amelia Jones, Tracey Warr, The Artist’s Body, London 2000, pp.144-5
Carolee Schneemann, Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects, Cambridge Massachusetts and London 2002, pp.150-61 and 318-9
Bruce R. McPherson, Carolee Schneemann: More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings, New York 1979, 1997, pp.234-9, reproduced pp.238-9