Friday, January 22, 2016

Carolee Schneemann: Unforgivable

I have been thinking about the day-to-day, the routine, the quotidian, everyday life. I have been thinking about how context and form can reshape the banal into the beautiful. I have been thinking about how critics condemned Carolee Schneemann's experimental Super 8 films for their indulgence and personal clutter and how they really are quite fine pieces of work. The current exhibit, Unforgivable, at Work Gallery has ten of her films on view, in digital form. My friend B. and I took in three of them in pieces, interspersed with cups of hot chocolate, chatter and a meal, making for a very fine afternoon.

The film that really spoke to me was the longest, Kitch's Last Meal, which has been described as Schneemann recording her elderly cat declining over many, many meals, but that does the film a disservice. It is a meditation on death and does show the cat in a state of decline, but it is much more than that. Schneemann records her life, the cat's, her farmhouse, her partner of the time, Anthony McCall over a long stretch of time (in this viewing 53:47 over several reels), from 1973-1976. She also comments on institutional sexism, gender roles, and her own approach to art-making in a way that is fascinating, moving and profound. She also dances, makes preserves, and works with her film reels, and goes on car journeys. Her daily life makes up the film, which is in itself a defiant riposte to the art establishment that dismissed women's lives as unworthy of art.

I ponder all this as I face a period of confinement and reduced mobility. I am in the process of making a film and wondering how I will do it in these circumstances. I hope to take some inspiration from Schneemann and let my imagination wander where my corporeal being cannot.

Unforgivable contines at Work Gallery, London until 11 March.