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.