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PRANKS Excerpt: Karen Finley

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KAREN FINLEY: A lot of performances going on in the sixties and seventies were really about time, about creating work that couldn’t be sold, creating work that couldn’t enter the art market. Which is one reason why I went into performance, because I really didn’t like the art market. I don’t like the idea of selling work, even though I sell my performance. But just the idea of someone buying it makes me very uncomfortable. Every time I go into a museum or art gallery I get really nauseous. So performance is a perfect way I don’t have to deal with that, yet I’m in the art world or commenting on it, and I find that very important because I think selling art work is really politically incorrect—even though I would love to get an art gallery for my paintings! But it’s still really politically incorrect!

I think what motivated me the most was a pretty sad event. Even though I might be considered a naturally talented person, what triggered me the most in my work is the fact that my father committed suicide. That act gave me such a depth of a human being—the idea of death, of tragedy, of seeing that act, is something that I live with every day. And that is really a trigger for me and my work—the anger of how that happens, trying to conceptualize spiritually why tragedy happens—it’s just so bizarre that this happened in my life, in the same way it has brought creativity out of me. But actually, the performance comes from a very severe strong deep rage and sadness I had at the time of his death, and the way he died.

Many people do have some particular tragedy which they survive somehow, and everyone finds out their own particular way. But some people that have been victimized never let go. In particular I think of women (and men, too) who have suffered sexual abuse as children. I’m interested in those kind of things.

I think that in all creative processes, whether it’s painting or static art-making or writing music, you go through some kind state, and I think that’s the reason why one makes art—not only for the finished product, but for that actual art-making. That’s why when some people create work, they don’t really feel the need to actually sell it, they just enjoy making it. That’s what is the drug: making and creating something. It’s a really powerful drug, and for me it’s in that trance of when I’m performing and actually trying to get this energy out. The feeling I want to share is: if there is some victim or someone who has been put into some horrid tragedy or has experienced something—I have felt that. And you feel that every day—you’re intelligent and you continue on, but you still feel that.

I like to talk a lot about the invisible, like the emotions. I’m using words for it, but a lot of it is about invisible things.

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