‘Carolee Schneemann: More Wrong Things’ presents a selection of the artist’s works that confront the realities and memories of violence. ‘More Wrong Things’ – both the exhibition’s subtitle and the name of its feature installation – refers to the state of the contemporary world marked by war, terror, suffering, and precarity. Recently awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Carolee Schneemann is best known for her innovations in feminist and performance art. Yet Schneemann’s decades-spanning multimedia practice has also consistently questioned the personal and cultural politics of violence and mourning, which the eloquent recent works in the exhibition continue to examine.
Eighteen televisions and a chaotic tangle of wires are suspended from the ceiling of Hales Gallery and compose ‘More Wrong Things’ (2001), the exhibition’s eponymous installation. Fragmentary videos are played across the monitors and depict scenes of crises—bombed buildings, mass rallies, marching soldiers – interspersed with personal footage of a medical examination, a sexual encounter and the artist’s cat. A disjunctive soundscape compounds the disorienting effect of the videos, as the clamour of war is intermixed with a refrain that evokes a national or military anthem. Through their televised display, the images and sounds reflect the ways in which war intrudes the personal realm of domestic space as networked entertainment. Schneemann’s installation thus forms an archive of atrocity that stages the mediation of disaster to challenge the alienating spectacle of its images.
Four collaged paintings from Schneemann’s ‘Dust Paintings’ series complement the central installation. Created throughout the 1980s during Schneemann’s research into the then-ongoing Lebanese Civil War, these textured paintings are composed of thickly collaged layers that recall the material remnants of war – ash, debris, shrapnel and dust. Computer chip boards adhered to the impasto surfaces additionally convey the ominous technologisation of war. The splashing gesture of Schneemann’s painted strokes suggests a viewing perspective that is both aerial and archaeological. One looks on to a war-torn landscape from above and simultaneously digs up and uncovers the remains of disaster that have since gathered dust. Schneemann’s ‘Dust Paintings’ thus question how histories of violence are rendered invisible and how their physical traces must be uncovered and represented to be remembered.
‘Terminal Velocity’ (2001-2005), the final work presented, responds to the catastrophe of 9/11 and its haunting imagery. Schneemann collected photographs of nine people falling to their death, scanned and enlarged their images, and arranged the pictures into a grid. Schneemann’s use of a grid resists associations with modernist abstraction and instead accrues a memorialising function. The grid structures the shadowy figures, rendering phantoms legible. Moreover, Schneemann’s photographic approach to scale and magnification is distinctly redemptive: zooming and cropping reverses time to symbolically stop the fall. In doing so, Schneemann stages a way of looking and creating against the forward moving time of more wrong things.