Carolee Schneemann is known for her daring, unapologetically feminist actions. Her work has asserted the female body as a site of history, politics, and mythology through unforgettable performance and video. She has read from a scroll while pulling it from her vagina (Interior Scroll, 1975), rolled around ecstatically with raw meat (Meat Joy, 1964), and posed as Olympia in Robert Morris’s 1964 action Site. However, in their first joint exhibition with the artist, P.P.O.W. and Galerie Lelong have chosen to present not a summary of Schneemann’s actions, but rather an immersive glimpse into her research and analysis. Additional layers of the artist’s thinking are revealed, granting access to a world of previously unseen empirical data.
“Further Evidence – Exhibit A” at P.P.O.W. is a selection of Schneemann’s multimedia work from the 1980s and ’90s that maps an intricate vocabulary of symbols and correlations. Maquettes, notes, charts, and collages zoom in on the body—its blood vessels, neurons, and sex organs—and investigate what these share with the makeup of other, non-human forms, like spider webs, umbrellas, and bullhorns. Fresh Blood – A Dream Morphology (1995–96) and the accompanying Venus Vectors (1986–88), Plexiglas panels arranged in a star, tirelessly catalogue related ‘V’ forms, from prehistoric figurines to the structure of a verbena leaf.
Known/Unknown: Plague Column (1995–96) examines the association between disease and malignant femininity. In 1995, Schneemann came across a 17th-century Viennese sculpture that depicts the bubonic plague as a witch, with snakes emerging from her breasts as she is being speared by a small cherub and a gilded Madonna looks on. Schneemann began to consider the misogynist terminology used to describe illness. She takes “the war on cancer” and breaks it down into parts, both erotic and grotesque. In the center of the room is a pile of hay in which glowing orange silicone breasts are nestled among four small televisions. The images on the screens cut between smiling doctors, draining blood, and juicers. In the corner, hanging from clear string, oranges pierced with surgical needles resemble cancer cells. The forms imbue clinical data with an eerie, organic confusion.
“Further Evidence – Exhibit B,” at Galerie Lelong, includes two video installations featuring close-ups and overlaps of caged animals, domestic tasks, and political crises. In Precarious (2009), a cockatoo dancing in its cage blurs over prisoners dancing in captivity. Then, in Devour (2003–4), a baby’s lips approach a nipple as a body lies in a puddle of blood on the street. Both exhibitions also contain collage works: congealed images of cats, rubble and terrorism at Lelong, and biblical theory and sports equipment at P.P.O.W. These feel far less researched in their aesthetics; metaphors for domesticity and patriarchal narratives appear thrown together, especially after having seen Schneemann’s more involved charts and vectors.
Nevertheless, the dual representation of P.P.O.W. and Galerie Lelong has begun with a solid framework. With an approach that sits somewhere between that of a forensic detective and a passionate archeologist, Schneemann displays her evidence as an open question.