EAI has been at the forefront of producing, distributing, curating, and exhibiting video art for more than five decades now. In recent years the pioneering institution has been active in organizing online shows. Their latest effort is a significant achievement, centering an influential artist and her formidable legacy: Carolee Schneemann.

The program Seething Under the Snow: Film and Video by Carolee Schneemann is available on the platform features.eai.org through the end of January 2024. This tripartite offering was assembled by EAI in collaboration with the Carolee Schneemann Foundation. Organized under three distinct themes that ground Schneemann’s moving image work, the sections also include work by other important artists that can be considered to be in dialogue with Schneemann, either along aesthetic lines, or perhaps historical connections, and even personal. What results is a fascinating opportunity to re-acquaint oneself with the canonical alongside less widely-known films and videos by Schneemann.

Program 1 deals with war and violence and includes Viet-Flakes (1962-67), which is one of the earliest films that Schneemann made, and which endeavors to speak out about the war in Vietnam through a newspaper and magazine collage animated by 8mm camera. Schneemann remained engaged in antiwar stances at many stages of her career. This particular program also features works by other notable figures in film and video, including Martha Rosler, Barbara Hammer and Ken Jacobs. Each one contributes relevant (if not always transcendent) work critical of imperialist folly and state-sponsored aggression.

Carolee Schneemann, Fuses, 1964-67. © Carolee Schneemann Foundation.

Program 2, on sex and images, is the real triumph of this online exhibition. Schneemann’s landmark work Fuses (1964-67) is the opening statement of this grouping – a film with an outsized reputation, for its open depiction of sexuality and its fearless exploration of the poetry and materiality of the celluloid image. This is complemented by Interior Scroll – The Cave (1975-95), which evokes the iconic performance by Schneemann where she unfurls a paper scroll from her vagina while reading its content to an audience. The act is transgressive, but also somehow inherently cinematic: the female organ functioning like a film camera, the scroll like a film strip, her mouth akin to a projector, imprinting images on the mind’s eye. This is a body film, cinema by other means, which reminds the viewer, among other things, that film material is living material. Schneemann literally gives birth to an aesthetic act and object.

Program 2 continues with Dyketactics (1974) by Barbara Hammer, which is a masterpiece of female desire explored through an impressionistic layering of image and sound. Hammer’s film is every bit as legendary as Fuses, and it shares formal and thematic concerns, though of course opting to center lesbian acts of love rather than heterosexual linkages. Both of the artists place their own bodies as central figures in the films, and both works are stunning beauties whose mysteries will transfix for decades more. Also included in this program is the film Hannah Wilke Through the Large Glass (1976), by Hannah Wilke, which is a study of a performance enacted at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wilke stages a striptease while framed behind the iconic objet d’art The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even by Marcel Duchamp, which is one of those imposingly masculine fixtures (its alias is The Large Glass) in the annals of art history that serves as a dominant reference point. Wilke poses as an affront to this patriarchal tradition, also to the exploitative commercialism of high fashion, challenging the abstract male gaze with a deceptively simple film that collapses disciplines into an enthralling vortex that speaks to gender politics across the 20th century as deliriously entangled with form and material – i.e., once again, the female body.

Seething Under the Snow also features essential work by Joan Jonas, Walid Raad and others. The three screen programs are presented as Vimeo showcases, which makes them easy enough to absorb though does little as an interface to honor or amplify the raw power and brilliance of these monumental works. The main showcase pages do not provide enough window space on the video embeds to be able to even view the full titles of works at a glance, nor is there enough space for a text excerpt describing the works. The embeds themselves are presented in something close to thumbnail size, which makes them difficult to interact with, and also makes them feel like throwaway social media clips. In a late-pandemic online world we should expect better UI for the presentation of curated film and video programs, and in any case we have long since reached the limits of what Vimeo as a platform can do for the rigorous exhibition of moving image art. 

Many of the films and videos in this show are offered in high quality versions, sometimes restored, and enough of them are served competently by viewing on a laptop or a monitor. With works of this caliber, and given the formidable reputation of EAI as always on the cutting edge of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, one hopes that the institution’s subsequent forays into online programming will be more visually imaginative and technologically ambitious. But EAI has been guided by a core principle of servicing artists’ needs for a very long time – Schneemann actually edited many of her moving image works in their postproduction suite over the years. So it is also refreshing and reassuring that they know how to simply get out of the way and let the makers and their creations shine.

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