“At its simplest, “ explains Aaron Levy, executive director of the Slought Foundation, “the party will consist of a celebration of cats.” He was referring to the opening reception for Utterly Precarious: Carolee Schneemann in 5 Parts, a soiree of cat-friendly connoitering designed by internationally renowned artist and Pennsylvania native Carolee Schneemann. To set the mood, she’s ordered two hockey goals, which she plans to push together, cover with leaves and deck with raw herring. Human-accompanied cats are invited to frolic in this “sheltered environment,” but must RSVP.
If you’re a cat, the going’s good. If you’re not, the obvious questions spring to mind: isn’t this courting allergies, inviting a cacophony of yowls or creating a Pied Piper of Philadelphia situation in which stray cats stream in from the streets and trample well-meaning spectators in a mad rush for the herring? Levy seems remarkably unfazed by the pet project: “We have a history at Slought of taking on projects, the outcome of which is not assured, that entail a certain amount of risk.” What he could have added, but didn’t, is that Schneemann’s work has often perched across a dead fish in a raunchy straddle between the artistic and the pornographic.
In “Meat Joy” (1964), scantily clad actors writhed playfully in an orgy of raw fish, chickens and sausages; in “Interior Scroll” (1975), Schneemann read from a scroll that she slowly unfurled from her vagina. While these projects profoundly shaped how we think about the body, sexuality and gender, and prefigured the explosion of feminist artistic production that came hot on their heels, Levy points out that Schneemann has been curiously absent from museums. “Her work has met with a great deal of institutional resistance,” he says. The current show, which is a partnership between multiple institutions, will feature five films recently acquired by the University of Pennsylvania (to be screened at Slought), a conversation with the artist at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a master class and an artist-led tour of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
As one of the most important feminist artists of the post-war period, Levy points out that “a project like this is long overdue.” And he gets particular satisfaction from not just screening the films, but seeing them officially added to Penn’s library collection: “There’s a relation for us between depositing these films in the archives and showing them at the gallery.” But is there a relation between all this and the cat party?
At least in Philadelphia, this sort of pet-indebted artistic production rings a bell. In fact, it’s been a big year for big-name tributes to small pets. Last fall, performance artist Laurie Anderson’s Forty-Nine Days in the Bardo at the Fabric Workshop and Museum featured a series of massive charcoal drawings dedicated to (and featuring) her deceased rat terrier, Lolabelle. During the accompany performance, Anderson told the audience that she’d once convinced famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma to play a concert for dogs with her in Italy. Apparently, he’d always dreamed of such a thing.
Like Anderson, Schneeman will bring a bit of auteur to an otherwise zany idea. For example, the raw herring suspended from the netting of the hockey goals echoes the raw fish lobbed from body to body in “Meat Joy.” And the cats? “Cats have been her pets, but also her collaborators,” Levy says. Her cat, Kitch, starred in multiple video works as did Vesper and Cluny in numerous photographs.
Although cat attendance is highly encouraged, humans are also allowed to fly solo (although without a cat, herring will cost you $1). “We also need some leaves,” Levy adds, “so if anyone wants to bring some, they’re more than welcome.”
Cat Party/Opening Reception, April 26, 6:30-8:30pm. Through May 31. The Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut St. 215.701.4627. sloughtfoundation.org. RSVP your cat at firstname.lastname@example.org