Acclaimed American performance artist Carolee Scheeman is awarded this year’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 57th Venice Biennale. Joining an illustrious line of recipients including German painters Frank Auerbach and Sigmar Polke, Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic, and Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, Scheeman’s accolade is seen by the Biennale as testament to her major contribution to the arts. Hailed as a pioneer of performance, during the 1960s Scheeman revolutionalised the activity of art alongside the likes of Yves Klein, Charlotte Moorman, Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama who, for their interests, were to challenge object based art.
And by actively involving herself in her performances, Scheeman’s art was as much a test of endurance as it was an assertion of her body politics. Investigating Neo-Dadaism in the late 1950s, Scheeman carried her expressiveness into a more feminist environment that encouraged her to see art as a critical endeavour. Cleverly curating A Journey Through a Disrupted Landscape, in which she invited a small number of her college classmates to ‘crawl, climb, negotiate rocks, climb, walk, go through mud’, Scheeman sought to engender art with a set of actions. That led to her interest in Allan Kaprow’s ‘Happenings,’ as a way of involving herself more significantly in her own performances. Detaching herself from painting, Scheeman would endeavour to act against the perceived misogyny of modern art, by positively applying herself to the performative. In 1963s she choreographed Eye Body, 36 ‘transformative-actions’, involving her nude with garden snakes, and in her 1964’s piece Meat Joy, of her dancing over an anarchic scene of wet paint, sausage, raw fish, scraps of paper and chicken, which she described as a ‘celebration of flesh as material.’