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[whitespace] Karen Finley Show Me the Honey: Karen Finley explores issues of female sexuality, using honey as one of her props, in her newest performance piece, 'Shut Up and Love Me.'

Honey Bare

Karen Finley brings her latest work--and lots of honey coating-- to San Jose

By Mary Spicuzza

JESSE HELMS proclaimed her obscene. Feminist mavens at Ms. Magazine have named her "woman of the year." The National Endowment for the Arts decided that her performance works failed to meet their "standards of decency" and yanked funding, along with three other artists--who together became known as the NEA four.

Wherever Karen Finley goes, it seems, people can't stop talking.

Now the controversial performance artist and wordsmith, dubbed the "chocolate-smeared woman" by Helms, hopes San Jose audiences will shut up and listen. On Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, Finley brings her latest piece, Shut Up and Love Me, to the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

The works of Chicago-born Finley have drastically changed the realm of performance art since she first left the Midwest on a train bound for the San Francisco Art Institute in 1977. Finley found new uses for canned yams in "Yams Up My Granny's Ass," utilized ice cream sandwiches to discuss sexual molestation in a piece titled "Mr. Hirsh," and smeared herself with kidney beans in "I'm An Ass Man," to draw attention to a piece about rape and the men who attempt it.

"Food provided a primitive, visceral, almost gruesome element. It helped to convey to the audience the ways in which characters I portrayed were being violated," Finley writes in her new book, A Different Kind of Intimacy.

Her provocative shows, often performed in the nude, have brought international audiences face to face with difficult issues like rape, violence against women, and the darker sides of sexuality--which may explain the death threats, censorship, city council bans and even an interrogation from Scotland Yard.

Now Finley aims to use her unique brand of food-friendly performance, and three pitchers of honey, to create a comedic piece that portrays women as more than mere victims.

"I wanted to present a female character who is not a victim. The performance is about sex, and about the need to connect, the need for intimacy," Finley says. "It's returning to a place where I stopped in the mid-'80s. Because of my censorship problems I was dealing with violence, the abuse of power. I was bitter that my work was being eroticized by Helms, and devoted a good 12 years to that work."

Finley promises keep her raw, direct edge as she delves once again into the realms of humor and passion in Shut Up. She will deconstruct a lap dance, perform a disco striptease, and bronze herself in honey in what she calls a "post post-feminist work."

"The female is not the victim, she is complicit. She's with it, she's using it, and she's aware of it," Finley says. "It's a sensual statement, not a political one. But that in itself is a political statement."

Those at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art say they are thrilled Finley chose their spot as a stop on her tour, which involves performances in San Francisco and a visit to Politically Incorrect.

"This is about women's sexual relationships. It's going to be angry and hilarious. I can't wait," Jean MacDougall of the ICA says. MacDougall glows as she explains that Finley saw the South First Street space and chose it as her South Bay performance spot.

In addition to her Friday and Saturday night performances, Finley will also lecture at San Jose State University and sign copies of her book, A Different Kind of Intimacy, at 7:30pm on Thursday, March 8.

But viewer discretion is only advised for the Shut Up shows, probably because of nudity, adult content, and the honey.

Why honey?

"Honey has so many meanings," Finley says. "But it is also just sweet."

Karen Finley performs Shut Up and Love Me at 8pm, March 9 and 10, at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, 451 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$25. She also appears at San Jose State University for a lecture and booksigning on March 8 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $7-$10. 408.283.8155.

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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