Parts of a Body House Book (1972/2020) is a text that requires full physical engagement.
With no page numbers, or even a static orientation, our role as readers of this book involves constantly turning and flipping, and holding it up very close to our faces to look at tiny, blurry details. Sometimes those details reveal themselves to be traces of bodily fluids, increasing the visceral nature of the experience..
The titular “body” could just as easily be Schneemann’s oeuvre or her physical person, so central was the latter to her practice. Her works — a blazing, complex range of experiments with film, sound, movement, objects, people, assemblages, writing, fucking, painting, and large scale sculptural construction — revolve around the body. Like many of her projects, Parts of a Body House Book refuses traditional (read: patriarchal) formal expectations, advancing something more poetic, sensual, and textural.
The book’s movement between text and other layers of material (some physical, some stained/stamped, some handwritten,) reflects a feminist, multivocality. Throughout, Schneemann models a celebration of ongoing inner dialogue (along with the repressions that inflect it) without shame.
This is not the original Parts of a Body House Book, produced with Felipe Ehrenberg, for Beau Geste Press in 1972, in an edition of 60, but it’s a very, very faithful facsimile of Schneeman’s personal copy of that edition. In fact, the project began under her supervision in collaboration with the radically anti-institutional Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) in Rosendale, NY, located very close to Schneemann’s home base. (The artist passed away before the project’s completion.)
Parts of a Body House Book is both a catalog and artist’s book, and an argument for self-documentation.The volume includes essays, scores, sketches for expanded cinema and kinetic theater projects, letters, snippets of dialog, a recipe (from her work “Americana I Ching Apple Pie”), and even data from a two-year long ethnographic research project, comparing women’s self-reported sexual responses to different partners’ love-making approaches.
Interspersed and overlaid among these are various stains and marginalia of all manner — some stamped, some scribbled, some smeared — giving the book a three dimensional, or even a fourth dimensional quality: We stop being sure what was there when we first started paging through the book, and what we’ve since added with our own touch.
Schneemann has taken everything constraining, conforming, and oppressive out what a book has been in the past and replaced it with something that feels alive, challenging, human, sharp. Inserts include a two-page spread that looks like the sky and a piece of toilet paper with a dried splooge of menstrual blood.
Parts of a Body House Book raises glorious, delicious questions about what it means to reproduce something that was originally so handmade: How do you re-embody/re-present something that was once so integrally related to an individual’s body? According to WSW, the answer lies in the “interventions,” which include “corrections, stamping, staining, drawing, and highlighting, [all] recreated to the artist’s exact wishes.”
Indeed, the book feels like a living scrawl of Schneeman’s own hand, extracted from the womb of the beyond.
Parts of a Body House Book (2020), by Carolee Schneeman, is now available from the Women’s Studio Workshop.