The Trope of the Body and its Gendered Representations- PART TWO by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

The 1975 work of Carolee Schneemann Interior Scroll was performed in East Hampton, New York and at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. This conceptual piece saw Schneemann standing naked on a table and covering her body ritualistically in mud. She then proceeded to slowly extract a paper scroll from her vagina whilst reading from it. In this piece, Schneemann is performer, subject and artist, both the image itself and the maker of the image. By using her own body in performance, she dismantles and challenges conventional masculine ideologies, contemplating the objective of her work as “the need to see, to confront sexual shibboleths.”[1]

Schneemann faced criticism for being overtly erotic, borderline obscene and narcissistic but these are the taboos she wishes to address and destabilize in this piece, resisting dominant paradigms of patriarchal thought by presenting the internal image of the female genetalia. In stark opposition to Titian’s Venus Pudica gesture, here the act of the scroll being pulled from the most internalized space of the female body denies the historical restriction that has persistently denied, hidden and refused to depict even the external image of the vagina and therefore, female sexuality. This exposure resists covering the void left by this omission in the conventional canon of academic, ‘high’ art.

In Freudian terms, the female body becomes a source of anxiety for the masculine viewer due to the lack of a phallus. Therefore, the female body becomes a representative of castration and domination, fetishized and defined as ‘Other’ by this phallic lack.[2] When Schneemann pulls this scroll out of her ‘lack’, she blankly refuses to be dominated. The scroll comes from within the vagina, the internalized female space which Schneemann views as “a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation.”[3]

Furthermore, the control of the gaze renders a person capable to objectify and dominate the subject of the gaze. As we have noted in Titian’s Reclining Venus, the complicit and flirtatious outward gaze of Venus invites the masculine spectator to fantasize about her naked body. Schneemann’s scroll, however, acts as a physical object of otherness which has the power to disrupt the masculine controlling gaze. The action and removal of this object becomes the centralised focus of the gaze, controlled and created by Schneemann herself, so that her female body is no longer an objectified site for fetishization or sexual invitation. Interior Scroll breaks conventional parameters constructed to confine and control the feminine and refuses assimilation into dominant masculine theories and ideologies projected and elevated to the realm of art. Schneemann emphatically makes visible the invisible. The bodies we live, breath, sleep and eat in are not always perfect and flawless, polished and perfected but can very well be, “defiling, stinking, contaminating.”[4] Her work is not obscene or narcissistic but opposes restricting gender binaries by what has previously been omitted- the actual living experience of sexuality in a female body.

 www.caroleeschneemann.com


[1] Carolee Schneemann, “The Obscene Body/Politic.” Art Journal 50 (winter 1991):  p. 28-35: p.31

[2] Sigmund Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex. (New York: E.P Dutton and Co, 1962).

[3] Carolee Schneemann, “The Obscene Body/Politic.” Art Journal 50 (winter 1991):  p. 28-35: p.33

[4] Carolee Schneemann, “The Obscene Body/Politic.” Art Journal 50 (winter 1991):  p. 28-35: p.28

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “The Trope of the Body and its Gendered Representations- PART TWO by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

  1. […] The Trope of the Body and its Gendered … – Behind the Curtain In stark opposition to Titian's Venus Pudica gesture, here the act of the scroll being pulled from the most internalized space of the female body denies the historical restriction that has persistently denied, […]

  2. Argus says:

    ‘Art is as art does,’ Forrest Gump might have said. To each his own, I say.

    On the subject of art: the Tate Gallery in London suspended a dead horse from the rafters as art* . The prize winner in a major New Zealand art competition recently was a set of shit-and-pus stained sheets from a local hospital.
    So, some damsel extracting scrolls from her once-sacred orifice? Why not?

    * It was a very bad lambing season. I sent an e-mail to the Tate and said that I’d happily collect and post them a few works of art from the fields around our home if they’d pay the postage, but they never replied. Honestly, some people!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: