Artist Carolee Schneeman's first London solo show has recently opened at Hales Gallery. The show, Water Light/Water Needle, was first performed in 1966 and hasn't been seen since. The Guardian interviewed Schneeman this week about her long career. She and interviewer Steve Rose discuss her most controversial pieces, including Meat Joy and Fuses. "I never thought I was shocking," Schneeman tells Rose. "I say this all the time and it sounds disingenuous, but I always thought, 'This is something they need. My culture is going to recognise it's missing something.'"
Those who enjoy Schneeman's work and want to learn more about her thought processes and her life will enjoy reading her collection of letters, Correspondence Course. The letters, edited by art historian Kristine Stiles, are an epistolary history of Schneemann and other figures central to the international avant-garde of happenings, Fluxus, performance, and conceptual art. Schneemann corresponded for more than forty years with such figures as the composer James Tenney, the filmmaker Stan Brakhage, the artist Dick Higgins, the dancer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, the poet Clayton Eshleman, and the psychiatrist Joseph Berke. The book sheds light on the internecine aesthetic politics and mundane activities that constitute the exasperating vicissitudes of making art, building an artistic reputation, and negotiating an industry as unpredictable and demanding as the art world in the mid- to late twentieth century. Art Monthly called it "a tremendous achievement on the part of the editor, the artist and the publisher."
Much of Schneeman's work also falls into the category of what might be called "difficult art," which is the subject of Jennifer Doyle's recent book Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. Steve Rose compares Schneeman's work to more recent pieces by Paul McCarthy, Andres Serrano, and Casey Jenkins, all of which have aroused the ire of viewers and critics. Schneeman says, "a huge wall of taboo remains" about certain forms of art. Doyle argues that while certain forms of art may seem disgusting or off-putting at first, the artists deploy the complexity of our emotion to measure the weight of history, and to deepen our sense of where and how politics happens in contemporary art.
Water Light/Water Needle is on display until April 12.