This installation grew out of a live work of the same name that Schneemann performed nine times over three years. In that performance, the artist suspended herself from the ceiling in a tree surgeon’s harness, continually raising and lowering herself with trance-like movements as she produced a tangled web of marks on sheets of paper covering the walls and floor. The work was intended as a direct response to the masculine legacy of Abstract Expressionism—in particular, to Jackson Pollock’s “action painting”—as well as a rejection of the conventions of performance, such as a fixed audience, technical cues, and even conscious intention. Described by the artist as a solitary “movement meditation,” the work was also conceived as durational: each time it was presented, Schneemann performed continuously during all the hours the venue was open.
As Up to and Including Her Limits evolved, the artist wanted to capture and sustain the ephemeral work. This installation incorporates the harness and drawings from a performance at The Kitchen art space in New York in 1976, which are illuminated by a square of light emanating from a film projector, an element in several incarnations of the work. This glowing light and the performance documentation displayed on stacked video monitors stand in for the artist’s body, which is now absent from the work.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Carolee Schneemann is largely associated with her performance art of the 1960s and 1970s, in which she boldly addressed feminist and political issues in ways that shocked and engaged viewers. But she has always maintained that she is a painter, a fact often overlooked in discussions of her larger body of work. At the heart of her approach is her ongoing exploration of the boundaries of painting and drawing, as in Up to and Including Her Limits.
On the genesis of this physically demanding work, Schneemann writes that it was “the direct result of [Jackson] Pollock’s physicalized painting process,” referring to Pollock’s active engagement of his whole body as he flung, dripped, and poured paint over canvases spread on the floor. Dubbed “action painting” by art critic Harold Rosenberg, Pollock’s technique was a touchstone for Schneemann. She developed her own approach to art making in dialogue with action painting, seeking to insert her own body and her own perspective into a historically male-dominated arena.
“I am suspended in a tree surgeon’s harness on a three-quarter-inch manila rope, a rope which I can raise or lower manually to sustain an entranced period of drawing—my extended arm holds crayons which stroke the surrounding walls, accumulating a web of colored marks,” Schneemann writes, describing Up to and Including Her Limits. “My entire body becomes the agency of visual traces, vestige of the body’s energy in motion.”
Schneemann performed Up to and Including Her Limits nine times between 1971 and 1976, eventually turning it into an installation. The work is a record of the lines her suspended body made in space as she moved it up, down, and across expansive sheets of paper placed on the walls and floor of a corner of a room. Alongside the drawing, stacked video monitors show recorded footage of her performances, while the harness and rope that held her body hangs in the center of this display.