By Marcina Zaccaria
The mythology of the unicorn runs deep. In a video, Performance Artist Karen Finley introduces the glittery pinks and purples that often surround the unicorn.
This Obie Award winning performance artist clings to myth like she clings to her microphone, considering freedom, jewel tones, and archetypal power of the mythic figure. Juxtaposing imagery of the horned beast with the politics of the day, Karen Finley proves with Unicorn Gratitude Mystery that she really knows how to spit it.
With all the spirit of the 80s (but no attempt to jazzercise), Finley stands in front of a music stand. Her words are like a litany. She prefers loud blasts to quiet, contemplative tones. If “gratitude is her attitude,” she is fine to dish out whatever is deserved. She holds all the anger and undercurrent of a previous era. Not afraid of dealing with problematic email or the possibility that Google is God, she considers magic in the digital age.
Finley is absolutely irreverent, and uncommonly on time. She seems to love and hate politics. Dressed first in a white suit, she speaks about Hillary Clinton. Then, she jettisons into a longer monologue about Melania Trump’s speech, and the blue dress that Michelle Obama wore that reminded her of the blue dress worn by Monica Lewinsky. Finley seems to have some distance from the politics of 2016, and regards today’s news with some humor. This segment culminates with her spreading white liquid over her dress, as if the whole explained political debacle was a somewhat difficult sexual encounter, finally reaching a climax.
In fact, Finley found herself entangled so wickedly with politics in the early 90s, when her NEA grant was revoked (along with the grants of Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, and John Fleck) on the grounds of indecency. Prudes be damned. Though Finley remains clothed in Unicorn Gratitude Mystery (unlike Return of the Chocolate Smeared Woman or some of her other work), Unicorn Gratitude Mystern has enough off-color language to test even the most seasoned devotees of performance art.
If you’re not afraid of blunt language, the sequence, “She’s With Me” might be exactly the unrelenting tirade you’re looking for. It does seem freeing for Finley, who’s made a career out of pushing the boundaries. It’s almost a pleasant refrain, when Finley takes on the nature of war, and the politics of the masculine and the feminine in the last segment. For this life and death argument, she throws on a light colored jacket, and lets her natural, reddish braid appear from atop her head. She remains plain and clear. Unlike the earlier parts of the show, her statement on war and death sounds like a declaration worth intoning, time after time.
Karen Finley’s Unicorn Gratitude Mystery is running from July 31 to August 21 at The Laurie Beechman Theater (inside West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street). To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101
Photo: Hunter Canning