"I wanted my actual body to be combined with the work as an integral material— a further dimension of the construction... I am both image maker and image. The body may remain erotic, sexual, desired, desiring, but it is as well votive: marked, written over in a text of stroke and gesture discovered by my creative female will" - Carolee Schneemann
Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions is in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C. Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions 1963/2005 is in the collection of Reykjavik Art Museum and the Moderna Museet, Sweden and have been exhibited at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, 2007; Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY, 2008; Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Oslo, Norway, 2009; Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY, New Paltz, NY, 2010; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA, 2011; Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, IL, 2012.
The present work is comprised of a select grouping of twelve vintage photographs from Carolee Schneemann’s iconic body of performances: Eye Body 36 Transformative Actions from 1963. A complete collection of all the images is within the collection of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., however very few of the original prints exist from this groundbreaking series of performances. After years of facing rejection from the male-dominated art world, Carolee Schneemann’s historic decision to step away from the practice of painting in a more traditional sense by becoming the painting would represent a startling challenge to the status quo. Incorporating her own naked body as the principal “canvas” smeared in paint, Schneemann implemented feathers, broken mirrors and even snakes in different scenes around her studio, explaining “I called it being the image and the image-maker…The female nude is part of a revered tradition, although she is not to take authority over depictions of her nudity. She is just to be available” (C. Schneemann, quoted by S. Rose, Carolee Schneemann: ‘I never thought I was shocking,” The Gaurdian, 10 March 2014).
Alongside Lynda Benglis and Yoko Ono, Schneemann is represented amongst a pivotal group of female artists who, in many ways, are still vastly misunderstood. Eye Body is a pioneering series of works that would be followed by an international call to reclaim the patriarchy of the art world for female artists through performance and most often, around the female body. VALIE EXPORT’s 1969 Action Pants: Genital Panic, is the most iconic work from the artist’s oeuvre. With her hair wildly teased and wearing crotchless trousers, VALIE EXPORT marched into an art film house in Munich and challenged the patrons to look at a real woman, rather than the images they enjoyed on screen. Carrying the gun pointed at the heads of people in the row behind, the artist moved slowly from row to row, until the patrons silently got up and left the theatre.
As a major influence for artists including Cindy Sherman, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Marina Abramovic, who would continue to challenge the male gaze, Schneemann’s ardent strides towards filling the gaping void of female artists in the canons of art history have only recently risen to prominence, with an upcoming monograph due out this spring and an upcoming retrospective at the Museum Der Moderne Salzburg scheduled for this fall. Throughout her career and to this day, Schneemann has participated and initiated a number of groundbreaking performances, of which only the photo-documentation remains as works of art. Her 1975 Interior Scroll, was particularly inflammatory, as she pulled a narrow scroll from her vagina and read aloud from it before an audience of mainly female artists.
However, beyond the scope of feminist work, Schneemann was a pioneer in performance and new media art. Some of the most groundbreaking and novel concepts in recent art history have sprung from the minds of female artists, perhaps edged out of more traditional media through which their voices were ultimately dampened. While John Cage experimented through music in the 1950s it was really the Fluxus movement and happenings that really would not take flight until the 1960s. Nevertheless, the movement was short-lived, and Schneemann’s Eye Body remains one of the most prevailing actions of all time.