Karen Finley's work lives in the charged space between sex and politics.
Her 2008 performance "Impulse to Suck" explored the epic downfall of former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer after a prostitution scandal. Her 2010 piece "The Jackie Look" fused notions of sexual identity, politics and grief over the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And her 2013 performance of "Written in Sand" took an unsparing look at the toxic political atmosphere in which the AIDS crisis unfolded in the mid'1980s.
So it's hardly surprising that her newest performance, a three-pronged political fantasia called "Unicorn Gratitude Mystery," takes on two figures at the forefront of the American consciousness: Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump.
The show, which runs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave.), features Finley adopting the persona of each candidate. It mixes satire, psychoanalysis and wild imaginings, projecting Finley's notions about human sexuality and power dynamics onto two of the most closely watched personalities in the world.
In a phone interview, Finley talked about the inspiration behind the project, how she views the election and her feelings on returning to Hallwalls, the arts organization where she got her start in the early 1980s.
Question: How have you been digesting the election process so far?
Answer: I think I’m following it more analytically or as a Shakespearean performance. I am horrified by the rhetoric and the hate speech, but I am also showing in this performance the Shakespearean actors and plots. And that’s what fascinates me, is looking at the gestures, the story lines and the plot, the soap opera quality.
I’m constantly following the news, but I look at the speeches, I look at the words, I examine what people are wearing. I’m looking at what’s not being talked about, what’s surrounding them, in the same way that one interprets a painting or interprets a work of fiction.
Q: Are you sort of psychoanalyzing each candidate in a way?
Q: Give me a brief version of that. What’s your psychoanalysis of Hillary and Donald?
A: I’m looking at them that they are a couple, and we’re watching this couple or this relationship.
For Hillary, I begin with gratefulness and gratitude ... It is the manners that are expected of a woman, to always be grateful, to always be apologizing. Even though she’s very, very strong, you can just see by her body language and the way that she greets people or smiles: There’s a passivity within female expressions that are expected of you. And when you deviate from that, that’s when you become a bitch. So I talk about that.
With Trump, I believe that his masculinity is so protected or presented in such a way where he is protecting his own vulnerability and his over-fascination and fetish with his hair ... In the relationship, he’s really the hysterical female. Hillary gives him that space to be that way. She’s the woman in the pantsuit. It’s very gendered ... I find that there’s a certain eroticism within their relationship.
Q: So it’s like they need each other.
A: Yes. We gave him to her.
Q: Any thoughts about performing in Buffalo?
KF: I am so pleased to be able to come to Buffalo and share this work, and I am looking forward to meeting with my audience afterwards. I'm sad that I have to be creating work like this. But I hope that this piece will bring some clarity to what we’re seeing, to what we have to face.