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Finley's Attack on Taboos at Sushi Isn't for Timid

February 12, 1988|HILLIARD HARPER

SAN DIEGO — Karen Finley's one-woman performances--unusual, emotional excursions into taboos--are almost routinely canceled as too controversial.

Theaters and performance institutions in such centers of sophistication as Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Miami have all dropped her from their schedules over the past year.

Finley was even banned in London, where, she said, Scotland Yard told her she could "perform a strip show, but not say my words." London's Institute of Contemporary Art was deemed off limits because it was too near Buckingham Palace and the delicate ears of the Queen of England.

This weekend, Finley brings her latest full-length monologue to San Diego, where she will say her words and probably remove some of her clothing during three performances tonight, Saturday and Sunday at the Sushi performance gallery.

Called "The Constant State of Desire," the monologue touches on incest, child abuse, sexual obsession as well as other taboos. What turns some people off is the obscene language Finley uses and the raving, wailing tone of abused victims spoken through the mouths of the abusers.

Actually she alternates her delivery, juxtaposing an almost evangelical fervor with the voice of the stereotypical contented television housewife.

"It was an unconscious style" developed from rage, she said during a recent telephone interview from her home in New York. "If a woman can't talk about rape or sexual violence in the language she was abused in . . . it's against our First Amendment rights."

The strong visual element of her performance is that, as a victim, she defiles her clothes and body with canned foods.

Finley dubbed her show "The Constant State of Desire" to suggest the "characters or situations in which there is never any satisfaction. For many people, the turn-on is the desire. That's what keeps us going."

Characters in the monologue range from an AIDS victim to a woman breaking the necks of little birds. There is also a 5-year-old girl being sexually abused by her father.

Finley said "The Constant State of Desire" is a further development of the material and style she used in "Yams . . . ," a piece she performed at Sushi in 1986.

"It's like Georgia O'Keefe, who used the same themes over and over until she perfected them," Finley explained. With "The Constant State of Desire," "I have pushed that victim as far as I could."

A visual artist who paints and makes art objects, Finley is expanding her career. She is on two records--a compilation of pieces by performance artists like Ann Magnuson and Ethyl Eichelberger and her own recording, "Tales of Taboo."

A television documentary is being shot of her work, and Finley has been cast in a feature-length film titled "Blow Back," about a covert CIA operation that goes bad.

Having had shows canceled in other cities, does Finley fear the same will happen in San Diego? Hardly.

"I have a sentimental love for San Diego," she said. "I've done every show I've done over the past few years at Sushi. San Diego has been presenting me always and never, ever questioning me."

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