Carolee Schneemann: "Remains to Be Seen: New and Restored Films and Videos" (with video)

You have been a feminist choreographer, performance artist, painter and filmmaker since the early ’60s. What does performance art mean to you?
Today it’s every conceivable aspect of live interaction between a person and their various materials. In its origins, it was a highly visceral, visual concept that extended principles of painting, from Abstract Expressionism and the extended gesture of the body. For instance, Pollock extending himself onto the canvas. Over time, it has lost that essence of visuality and can be anything. It can be narrative, or comedic, addressed to video, environment, issues of age and gender, sexuality. It’s all over the place.

In the age of YouTube, how does multimedia artwork maintain its relevance?
Everybody has a little camera now. We can get political, forbidden information—more toxic and disturbing than any kind of sexuality—immediately, from anyone who happens to have a camera, to record outrageous acts of brutalization, for instance. From war zones to private situations in which police are seen Tasering a woman repeatedly, or a policeman who’s practically breaking the arms and spraying Mace in the face of a 15-year-old black girl. That’s intermedia for me now.

Doesn’t that bother you, though? Digital technology allows anyone with a cell camera to call his or her snapshots performance art?
Well, art will always have its own contexts and definitions. But I see them getting kind of smeared. It’s a constant exchange between technology as a populist tool and how artists use it. Artists don’t necessarily have a rarefied aesthetic anymore.

Can you tell me a little about the films they’re screening at Anthology Film Archives as part of Performa07?
Kitch’s Last Meal is a Super-8 diary film that examines an artist couple’s life through the perception of their cat. The cat was filmed eating her meals, at least one a week, until she died. Because the film started when the cat was 16 years old, it was already a foregone conclusion that the film couldn’t exist for many years. The cat, Kitch, a little gray female, happened to die while she was eating a lamb chop. Such was her agreement with my work. It was a double projection of two Super-8 reels simultaneously. Now it’s been wonderfully converted to DVD, with sound and the double units of projection on one DVD system. So more people will be able to see it.

And what about Fuses?
That’s my earliest, self-shot erotic film. It’s the intimacy of a heterosexual couple. Fuses was edited over two years and [the celluloid itself is] heavily collaged, with feathers, inks, different textures glued onto the film. When it was originally printed, the film lab agreed to put it through sprocket by sprocket by hand. So all generations have been at least once removed from the original. But Andrew Lampert at Anthology Film Archives found the original collage. It had disappeared but was found in perfect condition at Anthology. The new technologies can print directly from the collage. So we’re all going to see the original lost version.

You are famous for your bold physical performances in the ’60s and ’70s. Are you today more or less inhibited in performance?
I’m not at all inhibited, but performance is an occupied territory. I opened the territory with a small band of experimenting artists, and now it belongs to a vast body of other artists. I’m concentrating on my original work. As I remind everyone, my use of the body displaced my body of work. My body of work has been large installations and multichannel video-projection systems.

“Remains to Be Seen: New and Restored Films and Videos of Carolee Schneemann” is at Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Ave at 2nd St, 212-505-5181) Nov 15–17.

Carolee Schneeman: Meat Joy

Also see: Fuses