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“I myself am a failure at raising funds and sustaining my work. As a visiting artist I can hardly support basic functions. I do not have health insurance, life insurance, storage or insurance for art works; I do not have savings, retirement funds, medical plan, investments, bonds, etc. It is impossible to produce the new works I envision . . .

I’m enclosing a bibliography as well as an exhibition and lecture sheet to clarify this extremely paradoxical history, the punishing facts of this mythic “career.” Perhaps you will understand that being in dire straits while enduring a fantasy of success and achievement makes it impossible to fulfill your request.”

–Carolee Schneemann, performance artist Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle. (Duke University Press, 2010.)

 


 

Here, a mature female American artist is respectfully telling the director of the MacArthur Foundation Fellows program to go bleep himself. You know, The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. Ms. Schneemann had been asked to serve on a nominating committee to recommend young artists for the fellowships. Broke and broken, seemingly overlooked, Schneemann wants the MacArthur people to know it. If you have not heard of Carolee Schneemann, that’s exactly her point. And it probably means you are not interested in performance art in a big way. But maybe you have heard of Karen Finley? She made a splash in the eighties with her sweet potato. Or her yam.

I took my mother and my older sister to see Karen Finley in 1988 in San Francisco. It was Halloween night, so I guess I thought we should dress up. And we did. I was nineteen and I was living in SF doing my thing, which involved riding around on the back of my boss’s motorcycle and taking classes in Afro-Cuban dance. My sister was twenty-one and living there, too. She was doing her thing, which involved paralegal work mostly, saving money and applying to law school. My mother was visiting.

So my sister dressed up as a cat and my mother dressed up as a clown and I dressed up as an Indian. You might prefer that I use the term Native American, and I prefer it myself. But to be honest, I was dressed up as an Indian. Complete with face paint and a dime-store feather headdress I picked up on Haight Street. Very inappropriate and stupid of me, but I did stuff like that all the time, and I probably still do, but I won’t realize it until ten years from now.

Karen Finley scared the crap out of us, though I acted like I knew what to think. After the show, we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and we spotted the mighty Bob Weir at a corner table with some people who looked like roadies. Bob Weir never had to apply for a grant or a fellowship in his life. So is it that simple? Learn an instrument? Sure it is. I recommend guitar over flute.

One time I saw Bjork at Sam Ash in New York City. She was shopping with her tween-aged son, who was trying out guitars and amps with a friend. I don’t think she would mind me saying that she was very pregnant with Matthew Barney’s child.

 

 

 

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