Plumb Line (1972)

Carolee Schneemann

Plumb Line Carolee Schneemann USA 16mm > digital15 min 1972

Plumb Line was beautiful, it seemed to be laying everything open, even more than Fuses—a very private film, and as clear as crystal. – David Curtis.

Where Fuses celebrates the utopian possibilities of romantic love, Plumb Line reels from its dissolution. The film’s soundtrack, which expands on the sonic montage of Viet-Flakes, contains pop music, birdsong, screams, a wailing cat, and a devastating monologue in which Schneemann laments a lost love and the ongoing horrors of the Vietnam War. A step printer at the London Film-Makers’ Co-op was used to reprint 8mm shots onto 16mm frames in units of four, and this laborious process results in kaleidoscopic grids that recur throughout. Schneemann re-presents images of her own authorship in the film as records of a visually and psychically shattered subjectivity, miniaturizing and reframing her own material within the film. The destructive, alienating psychodrama of Plumb Line is bookended by shots in which the film appears to burst into flames. – Giampaolo Bianconi

Streaming Details

This film is available to stream globally.

Program Partners

This film is co-presented with Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

Image credits: all artworks, stills, and portraits courtesy of the artist © Estate of Carolee Schneemann and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York. Special thanks to the Carolee Schneemann Foundation, Karl McCool, and Hannah Kay.

about the artist

Carolee Schneemann (USA) was an American visual artist and filmmaker born in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania in 1939.  With a career spanning more than 60 years, she is one of the foremost avant-garde filmmakers and artistic pioneers of the 20th century. Described retrospectively by childhood friends as a “mad pantheist,” she maintained the support of her family for her early artistic pursuits and “unusual” fascination with the human body, attributing this to her father’s work as a rural physician. Schneemann was a consummate experimentalist from an early age. Her multi-media practice extends across artistic fields, often exploring themes of sexuality, gender, and human atrocity. She received a BA in Painting from Bard College (1959) and an MFA from the University of Illinois (1961), where she began working in performance and other non-traditional mediums. She described herself as “a painter who has left the canvas to activate actual space and lived time.” In 1955, Schneemann met American composer and music theorist James Tenney. In 1962, through Tenney’s position at Bell Laboratories, she began interfacing with figures such as Billy Klüver, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg, and became involved with activities at Judson Memorial Church, including the Judson Dance Theatre, where she performed alongside contemporaries, including Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Freddie Herko. Schneemann completed 20+ films during her lifetime, which have been widely exhibited at festivals, museums, and galleries internationally, including Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Fluxus Fluxorum Festival, Sotheby’s, Joan Miró Foundation, The Museum of Modern Art, Ludwig Museum, Whitechapel Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Whitney Museum of American Art, and a dual film retrospective with VALIE EXPORT at Media City Film Festival in 2018. She was a recipient of numerous awards and honours, including Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships (1993), the Yoko Ono Courage Award (2012), and Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement (2017). Her work is in private and public collections internationally, including The Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, Art Gallery of Windsor, Hirshhorn Museum, and Museum der Moderne Salzburg, among others. She died in New Paltz, New York in 2019. She is greatly missed.