Artist Carolee Schneemann died in March, but her work lived on last week through a showing of two of her films, “Fuses” and “Kitch’s Last Meal.”
The event, part of the BU cinema department’s Visiting Film & Video Artists & Speaker Series, was held from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday in Lecture Hall 6, drawing a crowd of about 40 people.
“Fuses” is a silent film with a run time of approximately 30 minutes, shot on 16mm film. The second film, “Kitch’s Last Meal,” is almost an hour long and features sound as well as color. Kenneth White, an assistant professor of cinema at Binghamton University who has contributed to the Carolee Schneemann Foundation and edited the anthology “Carolee Schneemann: Unforgivable,” said “Fuses” was originally 23 minutes long, but some of the materials were rediscovered and reincorporated into the film.
Both films featured visuals of Schneemann’s black cat, as well as scenes that had overlapping images of nature. The second film included audio of Schneemann speaking, as well as the sound of the cat meowing and a train.
After the films were shown, White answered questions from the audience. When asked how Schneemann was able to achieve the distortion of the films, White expanded on a variety of Schneemann’s methods.
“She was painting on the film, baking it, leaving it out in the weather, putting stickers on it, burning it, using a whole range of direct-on-film techniques,” White said.
Ray Flaks, a junior majoring in cinema, said he liked the aesthetic of the films and the process by which Schneemann achieved it.
“I really liked her use of coloring,” Flaks said. “We later found out that she painted on the film and that she was a painter before she was a filmmaker, and that really translated in an interesting way because her films had a really cool color palette and a really cool just sort of use of paint manipulation.”
“Fuses” is the first film in Schneemann’s trilogy, while “Kitch’s Last Meal” is the last of the series. “Plumb Line,” the second film, was not shown at the event. White said a common theme in the trilogy was domesticity.
“These three projects were various iterations of an interest, both in domestic life, especially her own … and striving to transform that into an opportunity for feminist revolution,” White said.
According to White, “Fuses” has faced many obstacles in reaching the public because ofo its controversial content.
“There was in fact, and Carolee [Schneemann] used to love to tell this story, a laboratory that specialized in pornographic cinema, and they were the only lab that would take this film,” White said. “And they were very uncomfortable with it too, because it did not fit the conventions of the material they usually produced. It was something very extraordinary for them but they were willing to work through the material, both in terms of its photochemical content and the materiality of the film itself.”
White said another one of Schneemann’s controversial projects, “Meat Joy,” led to a situation that endangered her life.
“For ‘Meat Joy’ was, as she knew, a provocation to the deepest, most fundamental premises of repression, sexual and political,” White said. “At its first iteration in Paris, the work generated a sensuous exchange. So intense, that a man rushed out of the audience and attempted to strangle her, to censor Schneemann.”
White included a quote from Schneemann that explained what she thought the purpose of her art was.
“’My materials do not solve the question, just continue to open it,’” White quoted.
The cinema department will continue to present events on Schneeman. “Breaking the Frame,” which will be presented by filmmaker Marielle Nitoslawska and will focus on Schneemann’s life, will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8 in Lecture Hall 6.