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13 / The Body

Meat Joy
Meat Joy
Artist / Origin Carolee Schneemann (American, b. 1939)
Region: North America
Date 1964
Material Group performance with raw fish, chickens, sausages, wet paint, plastic, rope, and shredded scrap paper
Credit Courtesy of the artist

expert perspective

RoseLee GoldbergDirector/Curator, PERFORMA
Carolee SchneemannArtist

Meat Joy

» Carolee Schneemann (American, b. 1939)

expert perspective

Some of the, let’s say, nude action works I’ve done terrified me. Those works were motivated by the fact that I couldn’t discover in my culture any equivalents to lived sensual, sexual experience. All through the sixties and before, female sexuality was either depicted as a kind of pornography or a medical subject. There seemed to be nothing really in between. So the motive for me was to see if I could integrate my nude body as part of my painting constructions of the time and it was also to try and reposition the body. My sense was I’m the image and I’m the image maker. So this can’t be pornographic and it can’t be deadly the way I found the Pop art depiction of female embodiment to be mechanistic and harsh and mechanized and full of this sort of prurient obsession. And then the classic obsessiveness of the female nude as the ideal subject—I wanted to see if I could displace that or change that by becoming part of my materials.

The body has always been central to my art because the eyes are part of the body and the hand receiving the energy and information from the eyes is part of the body, and the sexual body is the energizing core to feeling and thinking, even if it’s displaced conceptually as it often is. But for me, it’s always had an integration. It’s fluid. It’s dynamic.

Meat Joy ritualizes interactions between eight participants. The sequences of building form with each other’s bodies, the sequences are set but within that the parameters vary. So the interaction is full of change. In the central sequence, the bodies are constructed as sculptures. Women to men, men to men and they’re supposed to be put into position as if they could move, and of course, they always collapse. And out of that collapse comes the sequence where the serving maid arrives with the tray of the raw chickens, raw fish, and raw sausages. And, the participants have never had these thrown on them before. So the reaction is real and alive and the chickens are very heavy and very sticky and the fishes really stink because they’re old and the sausages are sort of amusing, delightful. And one of the rules is that once you get hit with one of these materials and you’ve handled it, you have to keep it. So the choreography will evolve in a set of exchanges and continuous motions.

Meat Joy confused the art authorities. But I always felt that I was working with traditions, that I was extending traditions of painting and sculpture and particularly the inheritance of abstract expressionism and the activation of Jackson Pollock.” 

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