BODY AND PERFORMANCE ART -ITS IMPORTANCE IN THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES. AN APPRAISAL OF ANA MENDIETA(1948-1985) AND CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN(1939-PRESENT).

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Body  and performance art would come to challenge the whole concept of the Modernist project during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Both Mendieta and Scheenmann would approach their art with different perspectives. Mendieta would largely act alone and use photography and would be photographed using different models of representation , whereas Scheenmann  would engage with other performers and was active both physically and sexually in some of her extreme sexual activities.

Mendieta,s central concern was to show the female body in performance , unlike Scheenmann she was trying to show and practise feminist activities while exploring loss , time and identity. ” By placing her naked body within a specific location or terrain Mendieta also used her sileuta series to highlight issues of ethnic identity and territorial  origins “ [1].

Mendieta a Cuban who left Cuba to migrate to the United States continued to explore the role of migration to another country and what that represented. ” Scheenmann led a group of male and female performers who dressed only in underwear painted each others bodies with blood from meat carcases”. [2].

As commentators have said Scheenmann was using her body to challenge the modernist concept of painting. ” By using the body as a form of crude canvass on which blood and paint are splattered she also calls into question the practice of painting itself”. [3].

Mendieta in the Silueta series started to place her body on the landscape whether on snow covered mountains or in grassy knolls. They were then photographed and shown as performance art. ” Mendieta’s use of her own Body at the centre of the performance. Moreover this body has been staged marked and in the case of the silueta’s moulded for her performance”. [4].

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“In the Sileuta series Mendieta could be seen to encourage this interactive process partly through her obsessive repetition of performance of the female body or form” [5].

Mendieta through her solo performance is questioning the status of the edited photographs which are produced somewhere else and can be displayed in a gallery space. ” What status can the edited photographic record have for its audience? Do the photographs merely provide proof of the original performance or can they actually substitute for it”. [6].

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” In the Sileuta series the organic relationship between life and death is reinforced through erosion or decay”. [7].What Mendieta was doing was saying the marks I leave in the snow or on the grass shows how disappearance can effect the emotional status of a person by saying they were there but they are not there now. The central philosophical question of personal identity.

” Mendieta creates a tension within the performance. She both takes control of the experience , directing the viewers gaze towards the way in which a woman’s body might be abused or disfigured”. [8].

There is no interactive experience in Mendieta’s performance .She is alone except a cameraman , The viewer only observes the performance later when he looks at the photographic record within the gallery space.

” The destruction of the imprint or mould of the female body is less disturbing in its implications than an actual blood-splattered or threatened body”. [9] .” Mendieta also emphases the importance of the act of transfer in the event. The transfer of one object from one place to another”. [10].

Mendieta was exiled from Cuba as a young girl , growing up in a new country troubled her emotionally through loss of identity . Mendieta died a tragic death. Her death was commented on by the media at the time. ” In September 1985 Mendieta’s husband the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre was charged with murdering her by pushing her out of their apartment. Andre was twice accused and twice acquitted of the crime”. [11].

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Carolee  Schneemann is a visual artist working in the United states who became interested in gender and sexuality. She was active in the fluxus movement of happenings and neo dada especially the Beat Generation in 1963-4. She participated in the Feminist art movement and worked with a number of artists including Robert Morris and Allan Kaprow.

Her Eye Body performances started in 1963. ” Performance is particularly indebted to painting especially action painting”. [12]. ” Works by Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann offer two early 1960’s examples of the appearance of the body in art”. [13].

Both Morris and Schneemann  in Eye Body and I Box showed how performance art could be staged with the viewer and has less importance for interactive participation. ” Both Eye body and I box, for in eye body Schneemann created a time based work physically emersing herself in an installation”. [14].

Schneemann was interested with her background in painting to take the picture plane and use it in the actual space with her body as the central item. ” She sought to make that extension  actual by transferring action from the illusory space of the picture plane to the real space of the room”. [15].

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Schneemann’s controversial eye body picture with two rubber snakes crawling over her body was stretching the realms of art within the pornographic orbit or did it?” In the most notoriously erotic photograph of the eye body suite two rubber snakes crawl on Schneemann’s belly and breasts Schneemann’s pudendum and clitoris are visible in this intimate picture of female anatomy seldom seen outside pornography”. [16].

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” Schneemann sought to bring viewers into intimate contact with her artistic process in the actual production of her art”. [17].

Amelia Jones an art historian closely identified with body art has criticised other critics for their antipathy towards Schneeman and others. ” Body art asks us to interrogate not only the politics of visuality but also the very structures through which the subject takes place”. [18]. Jones continues to demonstrate her support for artists like Schneemann and others. ” I am intrigued by the propensity of body art to unveil the hidden assumptions still embedded in critical discussions about post-modernism”. [19].

Thomas Crow in his Rise of the Sixties is another art Historian who comments on the importance of Schneemann. ” Carolee Schneemann’s MeatJoy(1964) took its massed participants entirely in the opposite direction to a scandalous degree of nudity and forbidden bodily contact with the raw flesh of fish and chickens: Blood and paint smeared male and female bodies alike”. [20].

In the same article Jones considers the importance of both Schneemann and Mendieta .” Ana Mendieta involved her body in ritual acts (related to Santana rites she first came into contact as a child” [21]. Further on Jones suggests the importance of the male gaze , similar to the arguments of Mulvey and Pollock. ” Mendieta is offering herself as a fetish object for a pleasure- seeking male gaze”. [22]. ” Mendieta’s absent bodies are conditional written into and given meaning by cultural specific discourses assigning spiritual values to female body/self”. [23].

Jones at the end of her essay shows the importance of Body and performance artists. ” My interest in the works of Mendieta , Schneemann  Kusama and other body artists is informed both by a desire to rethink post/modern culture” [24].

In this article I have sought to represent two different interpretations of body art represented by  Mendieta who was concerned with Identity and  Loss. Schneemann was more concerned to challenge the Modernist project by stretching the bounds of morality in Meat Joy and her Eye Body work where she is openly displayed sexually. Some critics have suggested that this pandering to the male sexual gaze. Schneeman disagreed and showed that Art was now developing into a new arena involving the very question of whom am I and how artists can represent Identity , Self, and  sexuality.

FOOTNOTES

  1. FRAMEWORKS OF MODERN ART OPEN UNIVERSITY PG 163
  2. DITTO PG 166
  3. DITTO PG 166
  4. DITTO PG 168
  5. DITTO PG 171
  6. DITTO PG 171
  7. DITTO PG 172
  8. DITTO PG 173
  9. DITTO PG 173
  10. DITTO PG 181
  11. DITTO PG 200
  12. THEMES IN CONTEMPORARY ART OPEN UNIVERSITY PG 186
  13. DITTO PG 191
  14. DITTO PG 194
  15. DITTO PG 194
  16. DITTO PG 194
  17. DITTO PG 196
  18. ART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AMELIA JONES PG 263
  19. DITTO PG 269
  20. THE RISE OF THE SIXTIES THOMAS CROW PG 125
  21. ART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AMELIA JONES PG 266
  22. DITTO PG 267
  23. DITTO PG 267
  24. DITTO PG 269

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