Closing Soon! Oct 21- Dec. 3, 2016
What most struck me about Carolee Schneemann’s “Futher Evidence – Exhibit A” was the complexity of her work. Amidst it all, there appeared to be a code, as if all of the necessary information was present, but that I would have to piece it together on my own to determine precisely what she meant to say.
I particularly connected with the installation in the back room, titled Known/Unknown — Plague Column, 1996-1997. This piece is not beautiful. It is jarring, almost unpleasant to view. However, Schneemann dares the viewer to enter into the work. The materials include hay and branches with video monitors and breast implants nested in tangles of string lights on the floor. The long columns of images and text juxtaposed against needle-stricken oranges hanging from the ceiling seem like disparate forces.
Reading the press release and connecting some of the ideas to the panels of text on the wall struck a more personal chord. A friend of mine recently decided to undergo a preventive double mastectomy because she carries the breast cancer gene and wanted to effectively eliminate her chances of developing breast cancer.
Knowing that breast cancer mainly afflicts females makes this approach seem even more barbaric. Schneemann uses this term “malignant femininity” to express the female body as something that is simultaneously feared and desired. In the text panel on the wall, she writes, “She could always make a doctor flinch when he reminded her of the urgency of a mastectomy: ‘my breast is an erotic organ —as is your penis — I’m keeping it with me.” Schneemann reminds us that the body is powerful and beautiful but that it is also dangerous.
Schneemann’s comparison of cancer treatment and tactical warfare was reiterated throughout the exhibition, in the montage of clips on the video monitors, in specific sections of texts, and in the images of the bubonic plague portrayed as a witch.
I appreciate Schneemann’s research and openness in stating her questions as the artist, guiding the viewer into her own thoughts. Especially in the context of recent political events, I find Schneemann’s investigation of the female body to be even more relevant. The notion of treating disease and the body with warlike tactics feels unbelievably contemporary. Femininity as malignant, feared, and desired, extends beyond this investigation of cancer and disease. It permeates our culture and our politics in ways that we are now being forced to face. The apparent chaos of the installation illustrates the way our society handles fear and the unknown. The visual cacophony and lack of pleasing aesthetic in Schneemann’s installation makes it something that is easy to walk away from without any attempt to understand, but doing so would be exactly the opposite of how I believe our society should confront work like this and the ideas that it embodies.