The Images Festival opens on Thursday April 12, but in the days and weeks preceding the fest, they’ve hosted some very interesting events, including a screening of Marielle Nitoslawska’s Breaking the Frame , a documentary about mutli-disciplinary artist (and kick-ass feminist) Carolee Schneemann, whose work has been reshaping the discourse on gender, sexuality and the (female) body since the 1960s.
Carolee Schneeman uses her own body (as well as others’) to delve into issues of sexuality, eroticism, taboo, and her often explicit work has caused immense discomfort within the male-dominated art world she came of age in as an artist. A particular favourite of mine is her 1975 performance, Interior Scroll , in which she stood naked and muddy on a table, slowly extracting a paper scroll from her vagina and reading it to the audience.
Disarmingly funny, honest and sharp in her insights not only into her own work but into the wild, experimental (and often pretty sexist) ’60s art scene she was a part of, Carolee reflects on a lifetime of challenging art practice.
Director Marielle Nitoslawska lets the narrative meander, lingering with her camera on individual artworks, letting Carolee tell a particularly interesting story about working with Stan Brakhage (he was one of her best pals) or talk about staying with Yves Klein‘s widow in Paris, or just talk about her beloved cats. Chronology isn’t important, and the work and the personality of the artist make for an incredibly engaging viewing experience.
In the film’s opening moments, Carolee is shown with a decapitated chipmunk on a plate. She points out the (she thinks female) creature’s head, and kindly disposes of the body while making loving reference to the killer (her fluffy but deadly pet cat). In the film’s final scenes, Carolee prepares for an exhibition of Infinity Kisses , a series of self-shot photographs from 1981-88 that depict her sharing intimate kisses with a cat. The work is funny, disturbing, and much like everything Carolee Schneemann creates, difficult to stop thinking about – a perfect bookend to the documentary.
What’s great about Breaking the Frame is that it’s a profile of a living, working artist who is available not only to reflect and comment on a lifetime of work, but whose work is still incredibly relevant to the discourse of feminism, sexuality and identity, in some cases (as with the incredible Meat Joy , one of Schneemann’s “greatest hits”, a performance from 1964 in which a group of mostly naked bodies writhed with raw fish, chicken, sausages, paint, and miscellaneous debris) nearly 50 years after it was created. It’s a great portrait of a woman whose work should be more widely known.
The Images Festival runs April 12 – 21. Check the website for more details.