Molding Myth: Carolee Schneemann, Parts of a Body House, and the Reality of Femininity
thesisposted on 27.07.2018, 00:00 by Kathryn Dorothea Sears
This thesis explores the beginning of celebrated painter, performance artist, writer, and filmmaker, Carolee Schneemann’s career. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, Schneemann’s art practice and textual sensibility reflected and influenced the development of the Women’s Movement in the United States. In the same decade that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, Schneemann served as an alternative to the myth of the modern housewife. Schneemann’s independence in the face of the societal expectation of both gender and class relegated Schneemann to the periphery of the art world where she created artwork which embodied an explicitly sexual form of expressive freedom that remains relevant to feminist artists through the present. Through this lens, this paper examines Schneemann’s discursive interruption of the dominant fiction of post-war American women as she writes herself into the history of art. Schneemann created an aesthetic model of the domestic that is widely differentiated from the normative model. The house, for this reason, plays a central role in the reception and production of Schneemann. The central thread of analysis in this project is Parts of a Body House, a performative script by Schneemann that experienced two separate publications: the first by the Something Else Press in Fantastic Architecture in 1970 and the second by the Beau Geste Press in Parts of Body House Book in 1972. This artwork relies on Schneemann’s concept of myth, which is informed by Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal feminist text, The Second Sex, and acts a structuring device through which Schneemann shapes the environment and sensory framework of Parts of a Body House. This sensory framework and emphasis on environment is not unique to Parts of a Body House, rather characteristic of Schneemann’s oeuvre in which she utilized the home as a space to reform stereotypes of the domestic servant and desexualized laborer. These concepts and boundaries, pertinent in the mid-twentieth century, are still explored and tested by present day feminist artists. In May 2017, Schneemann, received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. This acknowledgement of Schneemann’s work is overdue, on the one hand, but has occurred at a precise moment when the six decade career in which Schneemann’s dedicated feminist art practice appears more vital than ever.