Karen Finley is in the middle of what she describes as a "star-studded week." No longer fighting Jesse Helms and the National Endowment for the Arts "decency clause" in front of the Supreme Court, Finley's overbooked calendar calls for performances with Lou Reed, a video shoot with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and -- "Oh, could you hold one moment? That's my friend Amy Heckerling (of Fast Times at Ridgemont Highand Clueless) on the other line" -- incessant phone calls with pesky interviewers. Finley exemplifies a modern-day New York lifestyle, and she knows it. "New York can be a state of mind," she says.
But two years ago on September 11, she was on a Manhattan subway heading to do some final editing of her erotica book, Aroused, when the first plane hit the Twin Towers. "Everyone thought it was an accident; people were still moving," Finley says. "The city didn't stop after the first plane . . .it was bizarre; I was still on my way to get a coffee."
As she searched for a cup of joe, Finley stared at the television in a corner deli crowded by pedestrians. "People were watching it on the TV, but we could look out the window and see it happening there, too -- it was like looking at a car crash," she remembers. "There was a sense of joy in New York's misery -- like looking at an accident."
"Schadenfreude," Finley explains, citing a German expression for finding a personal comfort in the tragedy of others, is the theme motivating her latest work, Make Love, which opens tonight at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. "This performance is about living as a loving person and not taking the joy out of our hearts in these difficult times. We should not give ourselves up to a yellow ribbon."
Make Love is a sort of cabaret-infused love letter to New York, Finley style. An amusing brew of standup and spoken word, the piece is theatrically tied together by Finley channeling a Liza Minnelli performance like a sensory seance smeared with lipstick and bound with homeland-security-endorsed duct tape. "Liza lives in New York, she sings the song 'New York, New York'-- she is show business. Liza may have her ups and downs, but the show must go on, and that, too, is very New York."
Initially strange and maybe even offensive, the performance's theme is actually a "What Would Liza Do?" celebration of the human spirit. However, the sequins and glitter can't disguise the political and emotional undertow, and Make Love is sure to strike a blow to the conservative solar plexus -- something Finley has done before. "I think with the Patriot Act, many people are controversial right now -- I'm not the only one," she says. "I don't go to the lowest common denominator with my work."
Make Love has courted the Big Apple since July, but Finley is bringing extra devotion to the Boulder debut by adding the premiere of her "psychic portraits" at the BMoCA exhibition. After making an appointment and plunking down $125, art aficionados can secure thirty minutes of the infamous artist's time (and work) as she intuitively paints their symbolic portraits, which will be hung as part of a growing display in the gallery. "The portraits are more eclectic than '70s aura paintings; it's more Jungian. I have chosen Boulder for the premiere because I think Boulder will get this -- it's an easy extension for them."
Finley may be no stranger to strife (she obtained notoriety decades ago for her "Yam Jam" performance and has appeared nude on stage). The artist admits she "volunteered for the job" but says she prefers the word "sensational." "As in the senses," she elaborates. "I trigger and ignite people; it's a fascinating phenomenon for me to live. I am their anxiety, like a cultural Rorschach test."