Performance Art Program

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 8:00 p.m.

$15 general admission, $12 students, $10 members

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Karen Finley

Impulse to Suck: The performance of the apology and the separation of sex and state

photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

On March 10, 2008, performance artist, author, and activist Karen Finley was at the State Capitol in Albany attending a conference, waiting to hear an important speech by then Governor Eliot Spitzer. As reported by Democracy Now on that date — under the headline NY BILL TO DECLARE ABORTION A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT FOR WOMEN IS TOP LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY FOR GOV. SPITZER — "Pro-choice activists are gathering around the country today to mark the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. In Albany, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is addressing the Family Planning Advocates of New York State. Shortly after taking office last year, Spitzer introduced a bill that would declare abortion a fundamental right for women. The bill would also ensure abortion remains legal in New York should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade." Instead, later that day, Spitzer stepped to the podium to perform an apology, with his devastated but supportive wife Silda standing by his side.

In her new performance work in progress, Finley explores what she calls "the performance of the apology," the erotic transference of the media's fixation on Spitzer's frown, and the emotional starring role played by Silda. Finley will perform her latest spoken word text examining the confession, the apology, the frown, the imagining of the sexual encounter, the journey of the escort, the compulsion, the immigrant father's plan for his son to succeed, and the former first couple's imagined therapy sessions. Looking at the psychodrama in the intimate lives of our political leaders — approaching tragic proportions in this case — Finley poses the agony of the son's need for approval from the father and the ancient wrestling of the feminine archetypes of mother and whore.

Karen Finley has been a frequent visitor to Hallwalls, from the performance she credits as her national professional debut in our 700 Main Street gallery in 1982 to her last appearance in our Black 'n' Blue Theatre at Tri-Main Center 20 years later. This brand-new performance in our intimate basement Cinema (two nights only) is Finley's first appearance in our new Babeville digs.

In April of this year, Finley received the Edwin Booth Award from the Doctoral Theatre Students Association of CUNY. This award was established in 1983 "to honor a person, organization, or company in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the New York City/American Theatre and Performance Community." Named after the 19th-century actor who was also renowned for his intellect, the award promotes integration of the professional and academic theatre communities. Past honorees have included Paula Vogel ('05), Tony Kushner ('02), Richard Foreman ('97), Arthur Miller ('92), Joseph Papp ('89), Ellen Stewart ('84), and The Royal Shakespeare Company ('83).

Karen Finley is a New York based artist whose raw and transgressive performances have long provoked controversy and debate. She has exhibited internationally her visual art, performances, and plays. Besides Hallwalls, her performances have been presented at Lincoln Center, The Guthrie in Minneapolis, American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, The ICA in London, Steppenwolf in Chicago, and The Bobino in Paris, among countless others. Her artworks are in numerous collections and museums including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and LA MOCA. Finley attended the San Francisco Art Institute, receiving an MFA and, later, an honorary Ph.D. She has received numerous awards and fellowships including a Guggenheim, two OBIES, two Bessies, MS. magazine Woman of the Year, NARAL Person of the Year (which she shared with Anna Quindlen & Walter Cronkite), and grants from NYSCA and the NEA. Finley was one of four artists whose NEA awards were vetoed due to content considered "indecent." Finley and the other three artists sued for reinstatement and won the case in 1993 in the ninth circuit court in Los Angeles. The favorable ruling was appealed and ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998, in a decision that allowed the government to place restrictions on arts funding based on "decency standards." She has been on television, radio, print and electronic media for her opinions and reflections on contemporary culture, and currently writes for Huffington Post. In 2007 Finley created an installation, Nation Building, which explored America's history of racism and violence as a repeated theme in America's occupation and war in Iraq. She currently is a Professor of Art and Public Policy at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

Read this NY Times blog about Karen Finley's new piece.

Some publications related to this event:
June, July and August, 2008 - 2008