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Carolee Schneemann ICESTRIP 1972

Rose English and Sally Potter Berlin, from Part Two: The Spectacle (on ice) 1976

Rose English and Sally Potter Berlin, from Part Three: Remembering the Spectacle (in the water) 1976

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as a theme in the work produced. ‘Feministo’ and ‘A Woman’s Place’ (both of which included a number of artists such as Su Richardson, Kate Walker, Monica Ross and Phil Goodall) at Radnor Terrace are paradigmatic of this type of work. Finally, journals and publications such as Red Rag, Shrew, W.I.R.E.S. and Spare Rib may also be considered as alternative sites where ideas could be exchanged. This article examines how feminist performance art thrived in alternative spaces and how these venues supported the ideology of a practice concerned with issues germane to the women’s movement.

One of the earliest practitioners of performance art in England was Schneemann, who fled New York after the dissolution of a marriage and her subsequent breakdown. Having made earlier trips to Europe – most importantly she performed Meat Joy in London as early as 1964 – she returned to London where she created several pieces, on her own and with her then partner Anthony McCall, a longtime collaborator. Schneemann’s ICESTRIP, 1972, also known as Isis Strip, was an intervention within the public infrastructure: Schneemann’s performance took place on a British Rail train travelling between London and Edinburgh during the annual festival in August. It was part of a programme of films, videos, performance and other events called ‘Ices-72’, which began at the Roundhouse and took place in various unusual venues including a Channel ferry, an aeroplane traversing the Atlantic, swimming pools, fields, parks and other sites.

ICESTRIP saw Schneemann undressing and redressing on a dining car table in preparation to roller skate the length of the train as it moved between the two cities. During the act of disrobing and robing the artist read paragraphs from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that were sequenced with rail times. The choice of this ambitious text was significant as it identified the relationship between language and reality and attempted to define the limits of science. Although some writers have focused on the visceral and provocative nature of Schneemann’s performances, this illustrates that the artist, like many conceptual feminist practitioners, was well versed in theoretical and historical discourse, including philosophy and psychoanalysis.

This play with language is reflected in the title of the work. Schneemann liked the ambivalence of ‘Ices/Isis’; the latter, a goddess who was worshipped in Ancient Egypt and in Greco-Roman times for her role as an ideal mother and wife, is the matron of nature and magic. One of her notes for the performance reads: ‘Isis takes you for a ride.’ The integration of ancient mythology and religion centred on matriarchal figures was to become a prevalent theme in feminist art, as exemplified by Judy Chicago’s landmark installation The Dinner Party, 1976. As in many of Schneemann’s performances (including the Naked Action Lecture at the ICA), here the artist conflates language – a typically male-dominated societal structure – with female power. How evident this was to an audience on a British Rail train en route to the Edinburgh festival, it is difficult to surmise; however, it is one of the earliest examples of a feminist artist using an unmediated public site to create work that provoked an unexpected confrontation with the audience.

Later in the decade, Baker’s An Edible Family in a Mobile Home, 1977, was a direct intervention in the urban fabric. Baker turned her studio, which was a prefabricated mobile home in London’s East End, courtesy of Acme Trust, into an installation cum performance, in the hope that she could garner a more local, and perhaps less elitist, audience than would have been possible in a gallery. Baker, like other women artists of her generation, has spoken of the urge to resist the mainstream gallery system, which initially was not sympathetic to a feminist agenda. It is significant that in the first instance the move away from

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