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Performance artist Finley to debut new work at UB


Published October 17, 2013

“Life is more important than art, but life is meaningless without art.”
Karen Finley, performance artist

Performance artist Karen Finley, known internationally for works that address sexuality, abuse and exclusion, will complete a two-day residency at UB next week with the premiere of a new performance piece, “Written in Sand: Collected AIDS Writings.”

During her residency, to take place Oct. 21-22, Finley will visit classrooms full of aspiring artists, lead a performance workshop for students and take part in the annual Visual Studies Speaker Series.

The following events are free and open to the public:

  • Visual Studies Speaker Series Lecture: “Trauma and Creativity,” Oct. 21, 6:30 p.m., 112 Center for the Arts, North Campus
  • Roundtable Lunch Discussion: “Censorship in the Art,” Oct. 22, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., 210 Student Union, North Campus
  • Performance: “Written in Sand: Collected AIDS Writings,” Oct. 22, 7 p.m., Baird Recital Hall, 250 Baird Hall, North Campus

To learn more about the upcoming events, visit the Department of Visual Studies' website.

Finley credits Buffalo with playing a major role in the development of her artistic career. She presented her first performance at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in 1982, and the gallery was the first publisher of her writing. Through the years, she has continued her relationship with the city, presenting several of her performances and installations at Hallwalls.

Her newest work, “Written in Sand,” is a dramatic reading of Finley’s past writings on AIDS, accompanied by piano and flute. The title is taken from her installation by the same name that premiered at Hallwalls in 1992. The performance will honor the 25th anniversary of Visual AIDS, an organization that uses art to spread AIDS awareness.

“As both an educator and artist, I want to inspire others to express themselves and use the arts for social change, but also to push boundaries in dominant structures in entertainment and artistic practice,” says Finley, a professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. “Life is more important than art, but life is meaningless without art.” 

Jonathan D. Katz, director of the Visual Studies PhD program at UB and president of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, says that Finley, “forged in the fires of the culture wars of the late 80s, has continued to make works that call America back to its founding dream of equality. She is one of our most commanding ethical voices.”

Finley was notably one of the ‘”NEA Four” performance artists whose National Endowment for the Arts grants were denied in 1990 by NEA Chair John Frohnmayer after the proposed art projects were condemned by the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms as “indecent.”

Since that infamous incident, Finley has built an extraordinary career. She has presented her visual art, performances and plays worldwide in numerous collections and museums, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

She also has received numerous awards and fellowships, was named Ms. Magazine’s Woman of the Year, was featured in Time magazine, appeared in Playboy magazine and played the role of Tom Hank’s doctor in the film “Philadelphia.”

Finley has authored seven books and her poetry is included in “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry”; her poem “The Black Sheep,” which is among her best-known works, was immortalized in sculpture in New York City.

Finley’s visit is supported by the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender as part of its Gender Week programming (see story in this week's issue), the Graduate Student Association, the Leslie Lohman Museum for Gay and Lesbian Art Queer Art Lecture Series and the Department of Visual Studies Speaker Series.