Karen Finley in San Francisco: Rage Refined, Rechanneled, Revisited

“Karen Finley leaves no room for neutrality.” That was part of her introduction to a group of about 50 people at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts earlier this week. It's an apt description. Her performance art, music, and writing are incendiary and confrontational by nature, taking on taboos associated with sexuality, gender roles, and war. Finley, whose final appearance on her San Francisco visit was last night at City Lights Books, has fought some formidable foes, including the late Sen. Jesse Helms, challenging his stand on federal funding for the arts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We didn't know quite what to expect during Finley's Wednesday reading and a follow-up interview yesterday. Incendiary and confrontational? We were certainly prepared for it. What we got instead was a moving (if disturbing) performance, a candid discussion, and a meaningful exchange from an artist who takes a thoughtful approach to her work and her place in the world.

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