- Femme Experimentale Interviews with Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer, and Chick Strand
Femme Experimentale is interview-based, focuses exclusively on three artists, and is naturally limited in scope. I want to acknowledge these limitations to encourage others to pursue research in this area. There is sexually explicit work that is not addressed, such as Anne Severson’s Near the Big Chakra (1973), which, along with Barbara Rubin’s Christmas on Earth (1963), deserves much more analysis than I have given. There are debates, in terms of artmaking and feminist scholarship, that are not touched upon in this project but which were present in the sixties and are significant in contemporary academic dialogue. One such absence is the lack of an overt discussion of racial stereotypes and their impact on sexually explicit images and concepts of femininity.
The introduction of Femme Experimentale positions the artists historically and examines the critical context in which the films were intially circulated. I analyze the films in terms of cinematic form, feminist film scholarship, and sexually explicit content to contribute to this critical debate. I am not proposing that the formal techniques used by these filmmakers are the singularly “correct” models for a feminist practice. Intelligent artistic practice relies on invention [End Page 1] rather than formula. Artists clearly exist in dialogue together, and it is debate rather than agreement that captivates, excites, and enraptures. While there is clearly a pleasure in looking at and discussing these works, they are specific examples and not prescriptions. These films and the discussion of them are meant to stimulate, encourage, and provoke other films and other analyses.
Completing this project, I realized that one essential aspect of Femme Experimental is the creation of voice. In the interview process, the usually mobile and transient act of speech becomes fossilized. Through transcription the interview becomes stabilized, but the words, the sentences, do not assume the structure of a singularly authored, written piece. The interview process produces a written structure that is uniquely contingent on the dynamic between two people and is cooperatively authored. I see and recognize my own voice as distinct yet changing in the three discussions. Other interviews with these same women reveal a different tone, a different person. I invited Caroline Koebel, Dina Ciraulo, and Irina Leimbacher to participate in this project because I wanted to hear other women filmmakers respond to this work. All three writers, like myself, are practicing artists and have been educated in film theory during the late eighties and early nineties; they are my academic peers. It is my desire that the cumulative effect of the seven different authors together mimics a discussion rather than a monolithic text. Its pedagogy should be in the discrepancies, the fissures, the subtle coincidences that readers discover, rather than in any single perspective.
Femme Experimentale is a historical document. It proposes that the voice—with its clearly subjective authorship—is a valid mode of historical analysis. The interview, a consciously produced historical document, relies on the act of conversation—ruptures, fragments, temporal shifts, memory, loss of memory—to produce its authenticity. This type of analysis trusts that the speakers are “truthful” while acknowledging the limitations of personal storytelling. It is a very active, living, and fictitious history stimulating the reader to be both faithful and imaginative. I hope that scholars, historians, and artists will find this to be a useful and engaging resource and will add to this discussion. [End Page 2]
Femme Experimentale consists of interviews with three ground-breaking women experimental filmmakers of the nineteen-sixties and seventies—Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer, and Chick Strand. These interviews cover a wide range of issues surrounding feminism and the arts, and were inspired by an interest in the ways—visually, conceptually, sonically—women experimental filmmakers portrayed female sexuality during the second wave of the Women’s Movement. These interviews are portraits of the artists considering specific questions about the development of their careers, their relationship to feminism, their artistic process, their opinions about the incorporation of their work in the history of experimental film, and their motives in making explicit images of female sexuality. The interviews also recount the historical and social...