Karen Finley's Reality Show

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Karen Finley's Reality Show

Prof C:  Hi Grace, we've been wanting to talk about Karen Finley's book launch, which we attended at Dixon Place last week. She's touring to promote her latest book, The Reality Shows (Feminist Press).

Grace Moon: Confession, I had never seen her live before, although I’ve known about her for years. I was enraptured.

Prof C: She's incredibly captivating, isn't she? What drew you in?

Moon: Well first off, the selection of her new book that she read from was about death... a taboo topic no one talks about. It takes real skill to take a subject like that make it meaningful and funny! I think death is even more difficult to talk about than sex. We are so used to the "proper" cliches when discussing that subject, and she really just dug in and turned it inside out.

Prof C: Exactly. I have to say I just love women performing hysteria in public. Her performance/reading was really layered: commentary on femininity (and its mass commodofication for feelings), death, hysteria all in service to what I thought was a profound and hilarious/biting cultural critique.

Moon: I think the other thing I really am just now understanding about performance art is there are two basic genres: the esoteric (ie Marina Abromovic) and the literary (Karen Finley and to an extent Holly Hughes).

Prof C:  Hmmm, well you're discussing female performance artists who all have different styles. But I wanted to remark on how, as an event (organized by old Vper Elizabeth Koke), I thought it was also unpretentiously multi-faceted... a book launch that was also a performance, an introduction by Justin Bond, a dialogue about performance art set at Dixon Place, a show where a book is your ticket, and um also...

Moon: Yes! I agree! It also reflects her work, which I think represents the beginnings of interdisciplinary art!

Prof C:  Hahaha. You LOVE Karen Finley! She isn't the beginnings of interdisciplinary or even performance art, but I think what Justin Bond and Kathleen Hanna (who writes the introduction and introduced her last night reading at Barnes and Noble Union Square, NYC) argue is that Finley (along with Wow Cafe people & others) is a central figure in a really meaningful and pioneering line of feminist performance.

She has been a really inspirational figure to riot grrls, outsider artists, and edgy punks... and obviously tons and tons of queers.

Moon: Yes, I agree. Not to step on your academic toes... I'm just trying to contextualize the history a bit. Modern performance art is traced back to Yves Klein and Joseph Beuys in the 60's. When women enter the art world en force in the 70's (and moreso in the 80's), they moved into new media (performance art, installation, photography) areas of art men didn't dominate and I think they were able defined those genres in a way that gave them and the femisnit perspective a very powerful platform.

Comments [4]

patricia's picture

pie fight, not swords!

Wow, so much to catch up on, and this is my fave arts post here, probably ever.  Flattered that you think I might be able to clear up women's history, but I learn as I go: distrusting chronology is step 1. Chronologies are mediated too, no?

Anyway, I do have some uneasiness about performance art starting with Beuys.  If he did performance in the mid-sixties, the French Situationists were much earlier, with their "constructs of situations".  If Beuys was doing that in the early to mid 70s, Coum Transmissions in the UK was doing performances in the late 60s, like 68/69.

The question I have is: was it Yoko Ono or the anarcho-punks to really catapult it to the modern era? Which has been more influential? 

As far matriarchal rituals/anthropological approach: if we categorize performance with ritual, belief systems comes up. Is magic performance? Is spirituality performance+ritual+myth or Ritual=myth/performance?

As a tool of inquiry it might be modern, rather than a tool of spiritual channeling/cleansing/honoring. For me, the difference lies in the degree of self-awareness and self-imposition on and of the Situation.

How else can performance be separated from interaction or ritual?

Prof C's picture

beep beep

You rule. I think I will start staging art fights with Grace more often so you can swoop in and say something sensible.

Grace Moon's picture

To Patricia above - I think

To Patricia above -

I think Ono and Abramovic both make performative ritual, both have personal/spiritual components in them, and by the way so did Beuys (i.e. coyote piece).

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Elizabeth Koke's picture

Thanks for the LOVE!

So great to have Vp representin' at Karen's book tour! 




<3 Elizabeth