American artist Carolee Schneemann is a legendary figure in the women’s art movement. Throughout her career, she sought to liberate herself from oppressive artistic and social conventions and constraints, while using her body to express a potent female sexuality.
In 1962, she began a three-year collaboration with New York’s Judson Dance Theatre, the avant-garde performance collective. One of her most important and iconic works from this time was the 1963 group performance Meat Joy. In it, eight scantily clad figures (men and women) crawl and roll about, playing with sausages, raw fish, raw poultry, wet paint, transparent plastic, ropes, scraps of paper, and one another. Their interaction sometimes resembles the slithering courtship of slugs, other times a frat-house initiation. Schneemann described her Dionesian orgy-as-art as an ‘erotic rite’ and a ‘celebration of flesh as material’.
A classic example of counterculture thinking, Meat Joy explored the way social dynamics change when cultural taboos and restrictions are lifted. And, as much as Schneemann is central to feminist art, Meat Joy did not fit into that category unequivocally. In the performance, gendered power games persisted as male participants threw women over their shoulders and proudly paraded around. Schneemann showed how removing boundaries can amplify existing power politics, rather than eliminate them.