Carolee Schneemann: The Last Interview

By PRIYANKA VORUGANTI

Eye Body 5, 1963

Eye Body 5, 1963

She did not look as I had expected.

  I don’t know what I had expected. I don’t know what one could expect someone like Carolee Schneemann to look like. I mean, yes, most of her work incorporates performance and her body, so her face is something fans of hers would recognize and most certainly remember, but for me, I just couldn’t visualize anything. Appearance, for some reason, meant very little to me in that moment. As I rode up the elevator to conduct an interview with the iconic Carolee Schneemann (the very last interview she would give before her death) all I could anticipate was her voice. There is something about the way a genius - an artistic genius - speaks. It’s a peculiar form of conversing, a way of speaking as if one were suddenly on a continual and never-ending tangent. But, being mesmerized, you don’t say, “Carolee, back to my question-” or “Carolee, as I was asking…” It doesn’t matter that they’re not answering the question. They were never going to.

  They never had any intention of answering your elementary and fangirl inquiry of, “When did you become interested in art,” What did you expect, Priyanka? I had prepared a list of things to ask, all stored and shuffled away in my head, How do you do it? How are you so beautiful? Powerful? How can I be like you? And, will it all get better? And also, will you give me a hug?  When I arrived and laid eyes upon the artist of my dreams, the woman who I had revered for years, I realized a hug was an unrealistic request. She was frail, disoriented, and old. I had not expected her to look like this, I thought. What did you expect, Priyanka? 

  I don’t know.

  I sat across from her, tentatively, excitement ripe in my chest and heat rushing through my cheeks. The woman across from me wasn’t what I had expected, but it was her. It was her! I wanted to cry, from happiness, but also from pain. I wanted to lay my lap on her knees and ask her why everything was so bleak, why everything had always been so hard for us. Us. I knew, even after looking at her for a second, that there was an ‘us’. She was the purveyor of ‘us’, she had created ‘us’. And looking at her, I had felt more woman than ever before.

  Carolee told us winding tales of being young, being angry, being in New York and being an artist. I envied her, for a moment. I wanted to be alongside her, in the 80s, ready to tackle the men and flash my vagina to the world. I wanted to be on the cusp of radicalism. But the woman before me was not some 20-something wearing fishnets and graffitiing the world. It was a 79 year old, incredibly wise woman who had lived to tell the tale. In that conversation, she spoke of dreams, of accomplishments and of struggles - struggles she, like any other woman, had dealt with. And slowly, the Carolee I had expected, or more so, failed to expect, fell apart. Before me was a woman. A woman, just a woman. An incredible woman, nonetheless, but I realized that she was, like me, some body, some human body, with a vagina, an objective for equality and a love for good art.

  I shook her hand after speaking, and said, “I adore you.”

  She smiled and said, “Me too.”
 

Fresh Blood: A Dream Morphology, 1983

Fresh Blood: A Dream Morphology, 1983

Edited by Merkin Karr