Presented with The Artist's Institute
Throughout her career, Carolee Schneemann has produced moving images on film and video intended as cinema, installation, and used as elements in her Kinetic Theater productions. Fuses, Viet-Flakes, and Plumb Line are united by her varied manipulations of the filmstrip, focus on intersubjective—and interspecies—relationships, and the intersection of emerging feminist politics with protest against the Vietnam War. Across all three, Schneemann explores the incorporation of visions other than her own into the space of film.
Fuses is an experiment in the portrayal of an egalitarian sexual partnership: the “deep transforming bounty one imparts to another reciprocally,” as Schneemann wrote of erotic love in her diaries. In making the film, Schneemann used strategies to distance her subjectivity from determining the image, which included sharing the camera with her partner, James Tenney, as well as dangling it from a lamp or setting it autonomously on a tabletop. Kitch the cat appears throughout the film, her presence between that of a totem and narrator. The breadth of sexual images—a breathing vulva, pulsing penis, thighs, and clenching asses—is densely overlaid with markings and scratches. Departing from the dominant masculine narrative of the sexual act, which is completed by the male ejaculation, Fuses’ incantatory depiction features a plurality of male and female orgasms, arranged as if without beginning or end.
Editing Fuses, Schneemann had marked the filmstrip and also submitted it to processes of domestic labor, as when she baked the film. Making Viet-Flakes, Schneemann not only colored the film, but expanded her dictionary of filmic interventions by using it as a “garden ‘bed’ in which to grow mold,” according to scholar Scott MacDonald. The film consists of Schneemann’s camera movements across photographs of the Vietnam War, which she had collected mostly from foreign press publications before they flooded American newspapers and television broadcasts. Denied, in a sense, the ability to record the war herself, Schneemann animated the stillness of available images, bringing the war home. James Tenney’s soundtrack jarringly cuts together popular hits—“We can work it out”—Bach, Vietnamese music, and orgasmic howls into a discordant collage of rising political consciousness.
Where Fuses celebrates the utopian possibilities of romantic love, Plumb Line reels from its dissolution. The film's soundtrack, which expands on the sonic montage of Viet-Flakes, contains pop music, birdsong, screams, a wailing cat, and a devastating monologue in which Schneemann laments a lost love and the ongoing horrors of the Vietnam War. A step printer at the London Filmmakers' Co-op was used to reprint 8mm shots onto 16mm frames in units of four, and this laborious process results in kaleidoscopic grids that recur throughout. Schneemann re-presents images of her own authorship in the film as records of a visually and psychically shattered subjectivity, miniaturizing and reframing her own material within the film. The destructive, alienating psychodrama of Plumb Line is bookended by shots in which the film appears to burst into flames.
Moving from a shared determination of the profilmic, through the depiction of already circulating images, and finally to the fragmentation of her own images, these films reveal Schneemann’s cinema as one that opens to the world from beyond the filmmaker’s gaze, whether in love, protest, or horror. These films deserve to been seen again and again with fresh eyes, for their audiences emerge more sensitive, more active, and more aware from the experiences of viewing. - Giampaolo Bianconi
- Viet-Flakes (Carolee Schneemann, 1966, 16mm, 11 mins)
- Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, 1967, 16mm, 30 mins)
- Plumb Line (Carolee Schneemann, 1972, 16mm, 15 mins)
Followed by a conversation with Schneemann and Bianconi.
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.