Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Hughes graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1977 and moved to New York City two years later to become a feminist painter. She worked as a waitress to support herself but felt unfulfilled, later writing: “Why had I moved to New York City to live in an even crummier apartment and do the same things that I was doing in Kalamazoo?” She saw[when?] a poster promoting a “Double X-rated Christmas party” to be held in the basement of a Catholic church. There she found lesbian women stripping, kissing booths, and a highly sexual atmosphere. She eagerly attended many such parties, became involved with the group and began doing theater with them because “that’s what they were doing”. Hughes’ first performance at the Women’s One World Cafe (Wow Cafe) in the early 1980s was a piece called “My Life as a Glamour Don’t”, about various fashion mistakes. She followed this up with “Shrimp in a Basket” and then her breakthrough Well of Horniness (1983). At the WOW Cafe, Hughes felt that she was able to “tell the stories she so desperately wanted to be told as a child.”
Hughes wrote, directed and performed in Dress Suits to Hire (1989). Focusing on the subjects of sexuality, masturbation and Jesus, her plays usually explore issues that she confronted as a young woman in college. In 1990 Hughes earned national attention as one of the so-called NEA Four, artists whose funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”) was vetoed. She addresses the NEA conrtoversy in her play Clit Notes.
In 1996, Hughes released perhaps her most famous and influential performances: Clit Notes. Much of this work can be viewed as autobiographical. In Clit Notes, Hughes performs several roles: herself at different ages, her mother, and various lovers that she has had. This is Hughes’ way of showing that her life and her art are one in the same and exist in a symbiotic relationship. Her writing is a way for Hughes’ to explore herself and to understand the events that have shaped her life, often using her writing to escape from elements that she perceives as repressive. She started her career as a performance artist in O Solo Homo (1998). It has been argued that she is influenced by Sam Shepard.
“You know who ladies are, don’t you?
Ladies are the people who will not let my girlfriend use the public ladies room, thinking she’s not a woman. But are they going to let her into the men’s restroom? Nope. Because they don’t think she’s a man, either.
If she’s not a woman and she’s not a man, what the hell is she?
Once I asked my father what fire was, a liquid, a gas, or a solid, and he said it wasn’t any one of those things. Fire isn’t a thing; it’s what happens to things. A force of nature. That’s what he called it.
Well maybe that’s what she is. A force of nature. I’ll tell you something: she is something that happened to me.”—Holly Hughes, Clit Notes (via fuckitfireeverything)
A native of the French Louisiana countryside with a doctorate in Performance Studies from NYU, Lenora Champagne thrives on urban life but more frequently writes about the dramas of women and men who live in a more direct relationship to nature. She came to New York to be a painter, but found her voice in performance. Champagne, who often collaborates with sculptors, composers and media artists, has been making work as a performance artist, playwright, and director since 1981. December 2011 marks the thirtieth anniversary of her work as a performance and theatre artist.
Champagne’s awards for her work include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts in Performance Art and Playwriting.
With composer Daniel Levy, she received a Richard Rodgers Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for The Singing: a cyberspace opera. She has received three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (in solo performance, directing, and an artist’s residency in Canada), commissions and project support from the New York State Council on the Arts, residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and support from the DCA and the Peg Santvoord, Jerome, Puffin and Joyce Mertz Gilmore Foundations and the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art. Her work has been commissioned by Dance Theatre Workshop and Creative Time, among others. She is a member of PEN, an alumna of New Dramatists and was a HARP artist at HERE Arts Center, where she developed TRACES/fades, an intergenerational performance with music and video that is a meditation on memory, loss and our national inability to remember history.
Champagne’s publications include Out from Under: Texts by Women Performance Artists and performance texts, plays and essays published by Smith & Krauss and in Plays and Playwrights 2009, Performing Arts Journal, Performance Research, Women and Performance Journal, Chain and The Iowa Review. She is Professor of Theatre and Performance at Purchase College, SUNY.
“I’m interested in perception - in how the world looks depending on where you stand to see, and on what you’re looking for. I’m interested in representation - how the aesthetic portrayal of individuals and groups gives a picture of their "value" in society. I’m interested in language (words, images, movement) as a means to play with and affect perception and representation. With my intricate stories metaphors, I aim to move audiences both intellectually and emotionally - to challenge them to think and feel about the complex ways in which we are implicated in each other’s stories, and in the larger society.”—Lenora Champagne
Born in 1936 in New York City, Joan Jonas is a pioneer of video and performance art and one of the most important female artists to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
She began her career in New York City as a sculptor. By 1968 she moved into what was then leading-edge territory: mixing performance with props and mediated images, situated outside in natural and/or industrial environments. In her early works, such as Wind (1968), Jonas filmed performers stiffly passing through the field of view against a wind that lent the choreography a psychological mystique. Songdelay(1973), filmed with both telephoto and wide-angle lenses (which produce opposing extremes in depth of field) drew on Jonas’ travels in Japan, where she saw groups of Noh performers clapping wood blocks and making angular movements.
Jonas’ video performances between 1972 and 1976 pared the cast down to one actor, the artist herself performing in her New York loft as Organic Honey, her seminal alter-ego invented as an “electronic erotic seductress,” whose doll-like visage seen reflected bits on camera explored the fragmented female image and women’s shifting roles. Drawings, costumes, masks, and interactions with the recorded image were effects that optically related to a doubling of perception and meaning. For Jonas, inOrganic Honey and earlier performances, the mirror became a symbol of (self-)portraiture, representation, the body, and real vs. imaginary, while also sometimes adding an element of danger and a connection to the audience that was integral to the work.
In 1976 with The Juniper Tree, Jonas arrived at a narrative structure from diverse literary sources, such as fairy tales, mythology, poetry, and folk songs, formalizing a highly complex, nonlinear method of presentation. Using a colorful theatrical set and recorded sound, The Juniper Tree retold aGrimm Brothers tale of an archetypal evil stepmother and her family. In the 1990s, Jonas’ My New Theater series moved away from a dependence on her physical presence. The three pieces investigated, in sequence: a Cape Breton dancer and his local culture; a dog jumping through a hoop while Jonas draws a landscape; and finally, using stones, costumes, memory-laden objects, and her dog, a video about the act of performing.
In her installation/performance commissioned for Documenta 11, Lines in the Sand (2002), Jonas investigated themes of the self and the body in a performance installation based on the writer H.D.’s (Hilda Doolittle) epic poem “Helen in Egypt” (1951–55), which reworks the myth of Helen of Troy. Jonas sited many of her early performances at The Kitchen, including Funnel (1972) and the screening of Vertical Roll (1972).
In The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, produced by The Renaissance Society in 2004, Jonas draws on Aby Warburg’s study of Hopi imagery. Jonas sees something of a parallel between herself and Warburg who compared diverse geographical and chronological cultures through an analysis of abstract imagery taken from their various artifacts. Drawing on sources ranging from Noh to Nordic theater, from the Brothers Grimm toHomer, Jonas extrapolates the magic of universal narratives from the most quotidian of circumstances so that she, as well as we, may become the heroes and heroines, victims and villains of the myth of self and origin.
Jonas’ works were first performed in the 1960s and ’70s for some of the most influential artists of her generation, including Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Dan Graham and Laurie Anderson. While she is widely known in Europe, her groundbreaking performances are lesser known in the United States, where, as critic Douglas Crimp wrote of her work in 1983, “the rupture that is effected in modernist practices has subsequently been repressed, smoothed over.” Yet, in restaging early and recent works, Jonas continues to find new layers of meanings in themes and questions ofgender and identity that have fueled her art for over thirty years.
The Queens Museum of Art exhibited “Joan Jonas: Five Works” from December 2003 through March 2004. It was the first major exhibition of Jonas’s work in a New York museum. The exhibition included a video room as well as a survey of drawings, photographs, and sketchbooks. Curated by Valerie Smith, QMA Director of Exhibitions, the exhibition catalog can be seen here: 
Her works include: Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (1972), The Juniper Tree (1976), Volcano Saga (1985), Revolted by the Thought of Known Places… (1992), Woman in the Well (1996/2000), her portable My New Theater series (1997–1999), Lines in the Sand (2002), and The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things (2004).
(born January 18, 1942, Saugerties, New York) is a central figure in contemporary performance art. She was raised in a devoutly Roman Catholic household, partly Irish and partly Italian, that was surrounded by artistic activity. Both her parents played in an orchestra but Linda’s fascination with Catholic ritual and desire to do humanitarian service led her to join the novitiate of the Maryknoll Sisters after one year studying at the College of New Rochelle. After two years with the order, however, Montano was suffering from severe anorexia, weighing only 80 pounds (36 kg), and she left the order to return to her former college, from which she graduated in 1965 as a sculptor.
During the rest of the 1960s, Linda continued to study and began performing, and by 1971 she was devoting herself exclusively to performance art. Around this time she married the photographer Mitchell Payne. During this period, Montano drifted away from the Catholic Church, but despite this loss of faith, Montano was consistently to acknowledge the influence of her strict Catholic upbringing on her work - for instance in how the discipline of convent life and her family’s loyal work-ethic made her able to carry out extremely disciplined performances in her later career. Montano’s first major performance, Chicken Woman (1972) was based on her MFA sculpture show at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There she exhibited nine live chickens in three 8-foot (2.4 m) by 16-foot-long (4.9 m) minimalist chicken wire cages on the roof of the art building. It was titled “The Chicken Show” from 1969.
Linda had moved to San Francisco 1970 with her husband, and it was there that she established herself with performances like “Handcuff” (1973 with Tom Marioni) where she was physically tied to other artists, and “Three Day Blindfold” (1974), where she lived for three days blindfolded and had to find her way around. The death of her husband led to further exploration of art as a healing modality (“Mitchells’ Death”, 1978) and she continued her art-theology dialogue by living in a Zen monastery for three years and to Ananda Ashram in the 1980s where she studied with Dr. Ramamurti Mishra for over 30 years. His influence and appreciation of her vision encouraged both her art and life. Upon meeting Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh, they performed a collaboration whereby the two artists were bound to each other by a length of rope 24 hours a day for a whole year (from July 4, 1983 to July 3, 1984).
In the following seven years Montano did another ambitious project titled “Seven Years of Living Art”, in which she lived in her home in Kingston wearing strictly monochromatic clothing, spent a portion of every day in a coloured room, and listened to a designated tone, all of which corresponded to the energetic qualities of a specific chakra. She changed colour every year, and after the project was finished followed it up with “Another Seven Years of Living Art”, in part to memorialise her mother, Mildred Montano, who died in 1988 of colon cancer. This time she did not use the colours, but aimed to focus on the same chakras. From 1998, Montano has given cycles to other artists,(MICHELLE BUSH, BARBARA CARRELLAS, SC DURKIN, KOOSIL-JA HWANG, VERNITA N’COGNITA, ESTHER K. SMITH, KRISTA KELLY WALSH, with satalite projects by VICTORIA SINGH & KURTIS CHAMPION and ELIZABETH STEPHENS & ANNIE SPRINKLE ) hoping to give three cycle to three arts each dating up to 2019. After this, Montano focused upon freelance teaching of performance art, caring for Henry Montano (her increasingly ill father) and counseling people again practicing “Art/Life Counseling”, a technique she used for seven years at The New Museum where curator Marcia Tucker had built a private room and allowed Montano to counsel people once a month in the window installation which was painted the same color that Montano wore for that year. At that time (1984–1991) Montano used tarot, palm and psychic readings as tools of discovery as well as attentive listening so that she could respond to the questions of her clients and she intended to find the most creative way to respond to their problems and difficulties. (Currently Montano still does “Art/Life/Laugher Counseling” but without the assistance of tarot, palm and psychic readings because they are forbidden by her current practice of Catholicism).
The influence of her father led Montano to return to Catholicism and ultimately to Church attendance, and since 2005 she has taken gathered prayer requests to more than ten Catholic pilgrimage sites throughout the world. Montano also meets with others in Catholic Churches for 3 hours silent retreats, re-seeing the concept of endurance from new Catholic-eyes. Since returning to Catholicism, Montano has made numerous videos exploring the faith, including Father Lebar: Catholic Priest and Exorcist; Saint Teresa Of Avila By Linda Mary Montano, and currently Mother Teresaof Calcutta. She also performs three-hour endurances, lip-syncing as Paul McMahon and Bob Dylan.
Her work investigates the relationship between art and life through intricate, life-altering ceremonies, some of which last for seven or more years. She is interested in the way artistic ritual, often staged as individual interactions or collaborative workshops, can be used to alter and enhance a person’s life and to create the opportunity for focus on spiritual energy states, silence and the cessation of art/life boundaries.
is an American performance artist who primarily works in the Los Angeles area.
She started her career in the late 1970s as musician in the punk scene. Music is still an important element of her shows. She has often worked with musician Mark Wheaton, whose fast, rhythmic music beats provide the background noise in several of her performances. Further predominant elements of Went’s shows are the use of elaborate costumes, which Went herself creates from various found objects, and the use of artificial blood. The latter played an especially important role in her early work. Went’s performances are not strictly text-based. She typically works based on a sketch that determines the rough sequence of actions, but leaves much room for improvisation. Went rarely uses language in her shows as means of communication. She rather sings, screams, whines and murmurs, thus rendering large parts of the spoken words incomprehensible.
In a typical show Went goes through several costume changes, dances, jumps around, sings, plays with often very big props that she frequently tears apart and tosses into the auditorium. Several of her shows culminate in the pouring of artificial blood over her own body, costumes and props. Went’s performances thus could be said to foreground the aesthetic quality of fast, spontaneous bodily movement and the material quality of voice and words. The creation of a certain dynamic or energy on stage as well as a certain formalist concern with the quality of colors and material take priority over conveying any particular message.
Critics have frequently characterized Went’s shows as “chaotic”, “wild” or “shocking”. Her work is often seen in context of other women artists of the 1980s whose performances are regarded as daring and transgressive, such as Karen Finley, Lydia Lunch, Diamanda Galas or Dancenoise.
She appeared in two films by directors Scott B and Beth B. In the Black Box (1978) she played a dominatrix, and in Vortex (1983) she played a private detective named Angel Powers. During this time, she also appeared in a number of films by Vivienne Dick, including She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978) and Beauty Becomes The Beast (1979), co-starring with Pat Place.
In the mid-1980s she formed her own recording and publishing company called “Widowspeak" on which she continues to release her own material, from music to spoken word.
Lunch formed the band Big Sexy Noise in 2009 with James Johnston and Terry Edwards (both members of the band Gallon Drunk). A six-track eponymous EP was released on June 1, 2009 through Sartorial Records. The EP included a cover of Lou Reed's song “Kill Your Sons” and “The Gospel Singer”, a song co-written with Kim Gordon. In 2010 she released, with Big Sexy Noise, their first album. In 2011, they released Trust The Witch, her second album with Big Sexy Noise. For both albums, Lydia Lunch and her band have made concert tours around the world.
"We don’t have a clue what it is to be male or female, or if there are intermediate genders. Male and female might be fields which overlap into androgyny or different kinds of sexual desires. But because we live in a Western, patriarchal world, we have very little chance of exploring these gender possibilities."
"Literature is that which denounces and slashes apart the repressing machine at the level of the signified."
"The students who come to my class are very closely related to all the evil girls who are very interested in their bodies and sex and pleasure. I learn a lot from them about how to have pleasure and how cool the female body is. One of my students had apiercingthrough herlabia. And she told me about how when you ride on amotorcycle, the little bead on the ring acts like avibrator. Her story turned me on so I did it. I got two. It was very cool. I’m very staid compared to my students, actually. I come from a generation where you’ve got thePCdykesand confusedheterosexuals. No one ever told me that you could walk around with astrap-on, havingorgasms.”
The Wooster Group is a not-for-profit theater company that relies on grants and donations from supporters. It has received multiple grants from theCarnegie Corporation, which has supported more than 550 New York City arts and social service institutions since its inception in 2002, and which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Mabou Mines is a collaborative, avant-garde theater company based in New York City. Founded in 1970, the company took its name from an old mining town in northern Nova Scotia, near where founding members JoAnne Akalaitis, Lee Breuer, Philip Glass, Ruth Maleczech, and David Warrilow, developed The Red Horse Animation, the group’s first original performance piece. Since then Mabou Mines has produced scores of plays, collaborated with well-known writers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers, garnered heaps of critical praise and awards, and performed around the globe, cementing its reputation as an innovative force in the theater world.
Lee Breuer and Ruth Maleczech met studying theater at UCLA in the late 1950s. Around 1960, the couple hitchhiked to San Francisco to participate in the city’s active theater scene. Working at the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop and the San Francisco Mime Troupe they met Bill Raymond, and at the San Francisco Tape Music Center they met JoAnne Akalaitis. In 1964 Akalaitis moved to New York City but left for Paris soon after with composer (and future husband) Philip Glass. The following year Breuer and Maleczech left San Francisco for Europe. The two couples met again while traveling in Greece and returned to Paris. With actor David Warrilow, they began work staging Samuel Beckett’s Play, which premiered at the American Cultural Center in 1967. It was also in Paris that the group first met actor Frederick Neumann. In 1969, back in New York with Glass, Akalaitis wrote the others in Paris to suggest they form a theater group in New York.
Influenced especially by Jerzy Grotowski’s teaching and Beckett’s work, Mabou Mines went on to produce experimental theater pieces like Breuer’sRed Horse Animationpieces that resulted from intense collaboration and improvisation, and incorporated elements of visual art, dance, mime, puppetry, and music. Arc Welding Piece (1972), for example, featured an artist using an arc welder to make cuts in a large piece of metal, while actors expressed various states of emotion, their faces enlarged by magnifying lenses. In 1974, Fred Neumann joined the group to work on Breuer’s second “Animation,” The B. Beaver Animation. Bill Raymond joined shortly thereafter.
In its early years, Mabou Mines moved easily between the art world and the theater, often performing in galleries as well as on stage. But the company’s work with Beckett’s plays firmly situated the group within a theatrical context. After an early residency at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York, the company began performing at Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater, and other venues in New York and elsewhere.
From the beginning, creative roles were fluid and collaboration was key, but Lee Breuer served as the company’s primary director. In 1975 however, Akalaitis directed Cascando and opened the door for other members to take on new roles, for the company to expand, and for multiple projects to come together simultaneously. Akalaitis went on to direct Dressed Like an Egg (1977) and Southern Exposure (1979), and wrote and directed Dead End Kids (1980. Neumann directed Mercier and Camier (1979). Maleczech directed Vanishing Pictures (1980). Other performers that worked with Mabou Mines included L.B. Dallas, Linda Hartinian, Ellen McElduff, Greg Mehrten, Terry O’Reilly, and B-St. John Schofield.
The company steadily expanded its repertoire and continued its tradition of collaboration, working with notable performers, artists, and composers such as Bob Telson, John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros, and David Byrne. Mabou Mines has adapted works by Shakespeare (Lear, 1990), Franz Xaver Kroetz (Through the Leaves, 1984; Help Wanted, 1986), Philip K. Dick ( Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, 1985), and Bertolt Brecht (In the Jungle of Cities, 1991). The company has also toured extensively in the United States and abroad.
Mabou Mines remains committed to its ideal of diffuse artistic control. “All decisions, artistic and administrative, large and small, are made by the company members, and each member functions variously as producer, designer, actor, writer, or director for the other. Additionally all participate as members of the Board of Directors.”
As the company stated in a 1990 press kit, “The artistic purpose of Mabou Mines has been and remains the creation of new theatre pieces from original texts and the theatrical use of existing texts staged from a specific point of view. Each member is encouraged to pursue his or her artistic vision by initiating and collaborating on a wide range of projects of varying styles, developing them from initial concept to final performance. This process is intense and often lengthy. While the director of a Mabou Mines work is responsible for its concept and its basic structure, the ultimate production reflects the concerns and the artistic input of all its collaborators.”
is an American sex educator and former stripper, pornographic actress, cable televisionhost, porn magazineeditor, writer and sexfilm producer. She received a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in 1986 and earned a degree in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco in 1992. Currently, Sprinkle (born ‘Ellen F.Steinberg’; July 23, 1954) works as a performance artist and sex educator. Sprinkle, who describes herself as ‘ecosexual’, married her long-time partner, Beth Stephens, in Canada on January 14, 2007.Steinberg first gave herself the name “Annie” when she started working in pornography. As her career continued she had an epiphany one night and she says “as if from the goddess herself” the name Annie Sprinkle came to her. She thought the name appropriate because “I was attracted by the sprinkles over ice cones (I am a bit of a sugaraholic!) and I love waterfalls, urine, vaginal fluids, sweat, anything wet. So the name ‘Annie Sprinkle’ seemed perfect.”
Sprinkle was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is known as the “prostitute and porn star turned sex educator and artist.” Her best known theater and performance art piece is her Public Cervix Announcement, in which she invites the audience to “celebrate the female body” by viewing her cervixwith a speculum and flashlight. She also performed The Legend of the Ancient Sacred Prostitute, in which she did a “sex magic” masturbation ritual on stage. She has toured one-woman shows internationally for 17 years, some of which were are titled Post Porn Modernist, Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn, Hardcore from the Heart, and Exposed; Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art.
Annie Sprinkle began working at the ticket booth at Tucson’s Plaza Cinema at 18, when Deep Throat was playing. The film was busted, and when Sprinkle had to appear in court as a witness, she met and fell in love with Deep Throat’s director, Gerard Damiano, and became his mistress, following him to New York City where she lived for twenty years. Annie’s first porn movie was Teenage Deviate, which was released in 1975. Perhaps her best known mainstream porn featured role was in Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle (co-directed by Sprinkle and sexploitation veteran Joseph W. Sarno) which was the #2 grossing porn film of 1981.
In 1991, Sprinkle created the Sluts and Goddesses workshop, which became the basis for her 1992 production The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop – Or How To Be A Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps, which was co-produced and co-directed with videographer Maria Beatty, and featured music by composer Pauline Oliveros. Sprinkle pioneered new genres of sexually explicit film and video such as edu-porn, gonzo, post porn, xxx docudrama, art porn, and feminist erotica.
She starred in Nick Zedd's experimental films War Is Menstrual Envy (1992), Ecstasy In Entropy (1999), and Electra Elf: The Beginning (2005).
She has appeared in almost 200 films, including hard and softcore pornography, B movies, loops, numerous documentaries, various TV shows including four HBOReal Sex programs. She has produced, directed, and starred in several of her own films, such as Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn, “Annie Sprinkle’s Amazing World of Orgasm, and “Linda/Les & Annie—The First Female to Male Transsexual Love Story”. These films played in hundreds of film festivals, in museums and galleries. Her work in adult films has earned her a spot on the Adult Star Path of Fame in Edison, New Jersey, she’s in the AVN Hall of Fame, the XRCO Hall of Fame. For three decades she has presented her work as a visiting artist at many major universities and colleges in the USA and Europe. Currently her lecture presentation is called “My Life and Work as a Feminist Porn Activist, Radical Sex Educator, and Ecosexual.” She also has done dozens of “Free Sidewalk Sex Clinics,” offering free sex education to the public in public space.
Sprinkle’s work has always been about sexuality, with a political, spiritual, and artistic bent. In December 2005, she committed to doing seven years of art projects about love with her wife and art collaborator, Beth Stephens. They call this their Love Art Laboratory. Part of their project was to do an experimental art wedding each year, and each year had a different theme and color. The seven-year structure was adapted to their project by invitation of artist Linda M. Montano. Sprinkle and Stephens have done fifteen art weddings, eleven with ecosexual themes. They married the Earth, Sky, Sea, Moon, Appalachian Mountains and the Sun in six different countries. These weddings are well documented at www.loveartlab.org
According to John Heidenry, Annie Sprinkle was the lover of the Dutch artist, and European Chairman of the Fluxus art movement, Willem de Ridder, and of the erotic writer and author Marco Vassi. Sprinkle has also long championed sex worker rights and health care. She worked as a prostitute from 1973 until 1993.
Having received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, Finley procured her first NEA grant and moved to New York City. She quickly became part of the city’s art scene, collaborating with artists such as the Kipper Kids (Brian Routh — whom she married/divorced — and Martin von Haselberg) and David Wojnarowicz.
Finley’s early recordings featured her ranting provocative monologues over disco beats (and she would often perform her songs late night at the famed club Danceteria, where she worked). These recordings include the singles “Tales of Taboo” from 1986 and “Lick It” from 1988 (both produced by Madonna collaborator Mark Kamins) plus the 1988 album, The Truth Is Hard to Swallow (re-released on CD, with a slightly different track listing, asFear of Living in 1994; in conjunction with the re-release, both “Tales of Taboo” and “Lick It” appeared on 12-inch again with new remixes by Super DJ Dmitri, Junior Vasquez, and other DJs of note). She collaborated with Sinéad O’Connor on “Jump in the River,” and was prominently sampled byS’Express on the classic dance floor cut-up, “Theme from S-Express" (her "Drop that ghetto blaster/suck me off" vocal - sampled from "Tales of Taboo" - formed something of a chorus in the song).
In 1991 she created the Memento Mori installation in Newcastle upon Tyne, as part of the Burning the Flag? festival examining American live art and censorship.
In 1994, she released a double-disc set on the Rykodisc label, A Certain Level of Denial, a studio version of the performance piece. Following that piece came The Return of the Chocolate-smeared Woman, her performance rebuttal to Helms and the NEA controversy. The U.S. Congress, controlled by Democrats at the time of the controversy, imposed restrictions on grants for indecent art. The Republican-appointed NEA head, John Frohnmayer, took the side of the targeted artists, which included Finley. The case, U.S. v Finley, argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, was decided against Finley and the other artists.
Finley has expressed delight at the fact that she appeared in Playboy (in July 1999) and received a Ms. magazine Woman of the Year award within months of each other. She was also featured in Time during this period, though she felt that the magazine misrepresented her by “eroticizing” works (such as one that addressed rape) based on her nudity alone; in other words, that they couldn’t absorb any information beyond her naked body.
Among Finley’s books are Shock Treatment, Enough is Enough: Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally, the Martha Stewart satire Living it Up: Humorous Adventures in Hyperdomesticity,Pooh Unplugged (detailing the eating and psychological disorders of Winnie the Pooh and his friends),and A Different Kind of Intimacy - the latter a collection of her works. Her poem “The Black Sheep” is among her best-known works, and has been immortalized on a sculpture in New York City. Finley’s poetry is included in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.
She has also created gallery installations that include together decorated walls, inscriptions, manufactured libraries of imaginary books, mock documents and objects associated with real and imagined persons.
The Karen Finley Live DVD (2004) compiled performances of Shut Up and Love Me and Make Love. Finley also played Tom Hanks' doctor in the movie Philadelphia at the invitation of Director Jonathan Demme. Finley revived a slightly updated version of “Make Love” September 10–11, 2008 at the Cutting Room in New York to commemorate the seventh anniversary of 9/11; she marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with a performance of “Make Love” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Times Square.
In 2009, Finley created a memorial at the concentration camp in Gusen, Austria to commemorate the murder by lethal injection to the heart of 420 Jewish children by the Nazis in February, 1945. The installation, “Open Heart,” was created with Austrian school children and holocaust survivors, and assisted by the Austrian artist Hannes Priesch.
As a child, her friends described her as “a mad pantheist,” due to her relationship and respect for nature. Schneemann cites her earliest connections between art and sexuality to her drawings from ages four and five, which she drew on her father’s prescription tablets. Schneemann’s family was generally supportive of her naturalness and freeness with her body. Schneemann herself has attributed her father’s support to the fact that he was a rural physician who had to often deal with the body in various states of health.
Schneemann acknowledges that she is often labeled as a feminist icon and that she is an influential figure to female artists, but she also notes that she reaches out to male artists as well. Though she is noted for being a feminist figure, her works explore issues in art and rely heavily on her broad knowledge of art history. Though works such as Eye Body were meant to explore the processes of painting and assemblage, rather than to address feminist topics, they still possess a strong female presence.
Unlike much other feminist art, Schneemann’s revolves around sexual expression and liberation, rather than referring to victimization or repression of women. According to artist and lecturer Johannes Birringer, Schneemann’s work resists the political correctness enforced by some branches of feminism as well as ideologies which feminists claim are misogynist, such as psychoanalysis. He also asserts that Schneemann’s work is difficult to classify and analyze as it combines constructivist and painterly concepts with her physical body and energy. In her 1976 bookCézanne, She Was A Great Painter, Schneemann wrote that she used nudity in her artwork to break taboos associated with the kinetic human body and to show that “the life of the body is more variously expressive than a sex-negative society can admit.” She also stated, “In some sense I made a gift of my body to other women; giving our bodies back to ourselves.” She preferred her term “art istorical” (without the h), so as to reject the “his” in history.
(born May 14, 1930) is a Cuban-American avant garde playwright and director who is associated with the establishment of the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the 1960s. Fornes themes focused on poverty and feminism. In 1965, she won her first Distinguished Plays Obie Award forPromenade and The Successful Life of 3. She was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with her play And What of the Night? Other notable works include Fefu and Her Friends, Mud, Letters from Cuba andSarita.
Fornés’ plays address social and personal issues, while removing the playwright from the work itself. Her writing style employs avant-garde techniques developed in the early years of the Off-off-Broadway movement. Her experimental techniques include modern form, feminist perspectives, realism and allegorical elements. The spectator’s identification and empathy with characters is seen as the core of Fornes’ theatrical philosophy. She viewed the theater as a place in which to stage experience so that the spectator can “receive” that experience and achieve “identification.”
The Widow (1961)
There! You Died (1963) (produced as Tango Palace in 1964)
The Successful life of 3: A skit for Vaudeville (1965)
Allen Frame How did you start directing your own work?
María Irene Fornés Having a play directed by someone else is like going to a religious school when you’re a child, you listen and obey. When you write a play you are in such intimate relationship with it. This is yours, you created these characters. Even more than you created them, they came to you. Because in the process of creating a character or a world, one has to be humble, one has to allow for the play’s images to take over. That’s why I say it comes to you, it has befriended you, and if you are wise enough, you receive it. You have this very profound connection with it, and suddenly somebody who doesn’t know anything about it (who immediately starts reading the play thinking, “What do I want to do with it?”) comes and starts working on it and tells you how he is going to do things. And you can’t talk to anybody. The director says, “Write a note and talk to me after.” So you write a note and talk to him after, and the director doesn’t know what you’re talking about because you’re referring to something that happened earlier. So you can’t talk about what’s happening in rehearsal. You can only talk about things in general, and the director may be willing to try to understand but often doesn’t understand. They think they understand and they go and tell the actor what you’re talking about, and you hear it and it’s not the same. Now isn’t that absurd? Writers either suffer it or they direct. That they have to learn how to direct. Now the unfortunate thing is that nobody tells playwrights that they cannot just go and direct. They first have to learn acting, not to become actors, but to know what the process is. Not only that but they should take classes with different teachers so they know different techniques and ways of approaching it. They should take a couple of directing classes. Writing a play is not enough. Playwrights don’t think, “I am not going to suffer this anymore. I’m going to find our how to do it and then do it.” They say, “I’m not going to suffer this anymore. I’m going to do it.” Then they start doing it and from the beginning they don’t know what to do, and then they give up … . You don’t lose anything by learning.
AF But your involvement as a director is exciting to you and not anything like the problem of working with a director?
IF To me, that’s the fun part. Writing can he a lot of fun, too, if you manage to isolate yourself so that your world becomes the world of the play, and it can be very wonderful, but directing is a social thing. And also you make a date. You say, “Rehearsal at 1.” And you go there and whether you are inspired or not, you start working and then you get inspired. When you’re a writer you have to go home and you’re by yourself.
AF I thought your staging, when I saw it a few years ago at the American Place Theatre, ofFefu and Her Friends was ingenious. These women come together in the first act for a college reunion at Fefu’s house. There is a realistic set. Then in second act, the audience is divided into four groups and led to three other sets in the backstage area and then the scenes take place in each of these areas as well as in the living room simultaneously, performed four times until each audience group has seen all four scenes. And the scenes are of the same length so that each audience group is ready to move at the same time. And you see characters leave the room occasionally and go into the scene of another room while that other scene is actually taking place. I found that the meaning inherent in this staging, what you experience from those shifts of perspective, to be as powerful as anything that was actually in the text.
IF Well, that’s what happens. That’s a result. Maybe unconsciously, but certainly there are all kinds of things that happen every time you make a move on stage or you make a decision which is the result of other moves. I don’t think anyone can anticipate. The reason why the four scenes in Fefu happen the way they happen is completely accidental—not accidental because I saw the possibility and realized it. It had to do with a performing place I wanted to rent at the time when I had just finished the first act and I was putting together the second. I was putting together the play using many different kinds of writing that I had done. Some of these monologues had nothing to do with the play but were just things I wrote, and I was feeding them into the play. I started also looking for a place to rent because at the time I was managing director of Theatre Strategy, a group of experimental playwrights, and I had to find a place for the plays to be performed, and the person who was assisting me said, “There is a loft on Lower Broadway advertised in the newspaper as a performing place. Would you like to look at it?” Now that place when I saw it was a wonderful place, but I didn’t think it was right for performance because the ceiling was too low and there were columns in the center which meant we couldn’t use the whole width of the loft and then we’d have to build bleachers so everybody could see. But I loved the way it looked so the person who ran the place took us to the front, it had been a factory, and the windows were all the width of the place and plants were all over, and I said, “Oh, this looks like a sun room in Fefu’s house.” And then he said, “Will you come to my office?” And there was this division and another division he called the green room and then the large performance area and on the other end of it was another partition he had made, and he had a beautiful little office there, Victorian furniture, beautiful desk. And when we sat down I said, “This could be Fefu’s library.” And then it hit me, and I thought I could do the play—the following scenes—in different places. And I said to him, “If I do the play here, can I use the whole place?” and he said, “Yes, would you like to see the kitchen? “And I said, “Kitchen!” He was wanting to turn the place into a theater but what he was mostly doing was catering.
When I worked with the actresses in Fefu in these spaces it was one of the most beautiful directing experiences for me because I was sitting with them right in the room. And it would be only us—whoever was in the scene and me sitting here. And it was more real to me than anything. Because when there’s a set and you’re on a stage, you’re further away. I would be sitting at the table with them. There was a table in this kitchen. Or in the study, I would be sitting in a chair, and it was completely quiet. There was total silence. To me that silence was necessary. If I had at that point written down stage directions which would have been forever binding, I would have said, “It’s important that the rooms be totally isolated so that there’s no sound at all.” Now when I was trying to synchronize the scenes, the sound of the other scenes was too loud, so we started putting curtains and blankets on the windows and the doors. My aim would have been to isolate the sound completely. Since we were not successful, there was a little bit of sound that drifted through it. It was actually the audience then that said, “What a wonderful thing that you hear the other conversations faintly. And sometimes you recognize lines, and sometimes they’re lines you’ve heard, and sometimes they’re lines you know you’re going to hear.” So you think, “Oh, my God! Of course!” But I didn’t know that. And I think when you deal with a play that’s completely a new form you know a little about it, and you say, “Yes, this is how it should be done,” because from what you see it’s exciting, but then you don’t anticipate many many other things.
AF There’s a heightened reality in your work that’s almost super-real. In Mud the writing was so compressed, so spare, that the play achieved an intensity that seemed super-real. One critic interpreted the story as a post-apocalyptic situation. The setting actually looked like something from the Depression era, but the terms of the play were so bleak and unpromising that the situation almost appeared to be a futuristic nightmare.
IF I understand seeing that, but I didn’t intend it. My plays are clean. Most plays have four, five vital moments in the play and the rest of the play is just getting to it. It’s just fill. I don’t know why, whether it’s just to create the sense that it’s real or that you have to spend two hours to experience the power (you have to see not just snapshots). But I find it very boring. I go to sleep when I see plays like that, and I go to sleep writing it. I would just actually fall asleep at the typewriter and would not be able to finish a scene written like that. What’s different now is that my work is much more emotional and connected to story. Because of that and the fact that the air around it is clean, it’s very strange. It reminds me a little bit of Edward Hopper’s paintings—where there’s something very real about the situation, it’s very mundane, but the air is always so clean you feel there’s something wrong.
AF It’s different from the “magic reality” of a lot of Latin American writers whose structure is also looser.
IF You mean the novelists?
IF The Latin American artist is almost always a surrealist, whether it be painters, artists, or poets. I don’t know that they ever see themselves as being surrealists. That’s just how they conceive art. Art is something you don’t just reproduce—what you see everyday doesn’t seem to be inspiring to them. But you do something with it so that it’s not bound by the law of reality. My work has always had that influence. I’ve never felt that it was necessary at all to write realistic plays. Moreover, the work that I’m doing now is much more based on reality than my work before.
Patricia Mattick and Alan Nobelthau from Mud by María Irene Fornés.
AF You are Cuban?
AF When did you come to the US ?
IF In 1945, right after the second World War.
AF Did you grow up in a Spanish-speaking household?
IF Yes, you can tell by my accent. When I came here I was fifteen and a half-years old, and that’s the age when it’s really hard to lose your accent.
AF When did you get involved in theater?
IF When I was 29. I used to be a painter. I mean, I used to try to paint because I was not a painter; I was always just trying to get myself to do it. I think my theater is the way it is because I spent a few years painting.
AF I thought maybe sculpture because there’s such a strong sense of structure in your work.
IF I have to structure it. I have to make sure that the staging is something important, in the same way that if somebody comes in in the wrong scene I would say, “No, this is not your scene, you come in in the next.” When I was working in Seattle there was a scene where I wanted the actor’s hand to be in a particular place on the chair, and I said, “Try it further back,” and he kidded a little. And I said, “Don’t laugh. Wait till I get to the fingers.” Sometimes I’m not even hearing the words, what they’re saying, but I always know where people are and the distance between them and the wall and the furniture. It’s very important. Just yesterday I went to see a play that is directed exceptionally carefully and yet I would say it’s two weeks behind where it should be for opening in terms of the experience of people in relation to things, a little further this way, a little further that way.
AF You give a workshop for Hispanic playwrights through Intar in which the participants receive a sizable stipend while they take the workshop. Do you think that Hispanic immigrants to this country have more urgency about writing because they’ve been displaced from their cultures?
IF Well, I don’t know if they have the urgency. I have, and I think everybody should feel, in general, very concerned about a whole generation of people who come to this country from Latin America and because of their lack of connection with the arts don’t document their existence. They don’t document how they think, how they see. There is a spirit that is very special, like the spirits of any immigrant group, but other immigrant groups, perhaps because of their background, have had a need to document their spirit, their way of doing things, their way of reacting to things.
AF I find it bold of you to express your own sense of despair through a situation of poverty in Appalachia, as you did in Mud. My guess is your experience is nothing like the dire deprivation of those three characters. Were you criticized for this?
IF I grew up during the depression in poverty. No. But when I did a shorter version of it at the Padua the Hills Playwright’s Festival last year there was a critic who said I treated men like pigs. And I was shocked by that because first of all I think these three people are wonderful. I think if you’re going to call the men pigs then call them all pigs because they’re all quite brutal in some way and quite tender in another sense. But the men are not anymore piggish than she is. They have a bigger heart than she has. She’s more self-centered, more ambitious, in a way harder than they are. The three of them are trying to survive as best they can. And they’re not bad people. That critic is anticipating that I’m going to write a play which has a feminist point of view, maybe because I wrote Fefuwhich is a pro-feminine play rather than a feminist play. I think Mae is a sexist role reversed. If Mae were a young man who wants to go to learn and was married to this slightly mentally retarded woman, and he would say, “Woman, you sleep on the floor, now this other woman who has a third grade education is going to come to the house and sleep in my bed, you go sleep on the floor,” then they would think that that guy was a son of a bitch and these two women are hardworking, honorable women who are victimized by this devil of a person. Now because Mae is a woman and these other two are men—you know what I mean? I think Mudis a feminist play but for a different reason. I think it is a feminist play because the central character is a woman, and the theme is one that writers usually deal with through a male character. The subject matter is—a person who has a mind, a little mind, she’s not a brilliant person, but the mind is opening, and she begins to feel obsessed with it, and she would do anything in the world to find the light. And some people can understand that as a subject matter only if it were a male character wanting to find that. It has nothing to do with men and women. It has to do with poverty and isolation and a mind. This mind is in the body of a female.
AF How do you start a play?
IF My plays usually start in manners that are very arbitrary. I try for my head not to interfere, and I try to see what’s coming out. When I wrote the first scenes of Mud in a writing workshop I was doing at Theater for the New City, I didn’t envision the characters in the country. In my mind they were in some European city. It was very general and vague. They were in some kind of basement, and they were very poor. When I arrived in California ready to start rehearsal all I had was that one scene. In fact, I was already a week late. They had already set up auditions for me. I thought, “I’ll work on that scene because it wasn’t even finished so I have a good scene for auditions and the actors think there is a play behind it.” The next day some people were going to a flea market near where we were, and I went with them because I often need objects or furniture to get a hold on a play. I need the props. We were at the flea market and I was looking for my set. (Also, you know, we had to put on these plays for hardly any money at all so when you find something cheap, then you write a play about that.) There were two little country chairs that were, for the two of them, only five dollars. They were very nice. They had been stripped down to the wood, and they were wonderful, and I said, “That’s very good.” Then we went a little further, and there were a hoe, and axe, and a pitchfork, also very cheap. The axe was ten dollars. The hoe and pitch fork were two for five dollars. And I thought, “This is a sign. I think it’s going to be a play in the country.” Then I went a little further and there was the prettiest little wooden ironing board for three dollars. Those things are antiques. You know, they cost thirty, fifty, seventy dollars anywhere. So I said, “That’s it, that’s my play. Now I know where they live, they live in the country. The play takes place in their living room or wherever they have two chairs, and I know what he does, he works the land, and I know what she does, she irons.” The reason why she’s ironing all the time is because that ironing board was so pretty and so cheap. A couple of days later they asked me for the title of the play. They needed it for the program and the press releases. So I said, “I’ll tell you in a couple of hours.” As we worked on the speech where Mae keeps saying, “You’re going to die in the mud,” etc. I thought, “Oh,” and so that was the title.
AF One thing I liked about Danube was the use of the frequently changing backdrops. It seemed as though you were making a reference to the passing pageantry of theater. They rolled up and they rolled down, and they were in direct contrast to the style of the play, which made them almost satirize proscenium theater with curtain and lavish backdrops. It was like an intellectual comment on …
IF What is the comment?
AF A reference to theatrical convention.
IF What is the reference, though?
AF Theater’s use of illusion. You used the painted backdrops to express an obvious illusion while you used the foreign language tapes to break down the illusion of their speech, interrupting it between lines with the tapes.
IF But the idea of illusion. Is that something that is presented as a mistake, as false?
AF No, when I say satire, that’s not right. It was humorous to see the incongruousness of an experimental play about the end of the world using these backdrops, which were a throwback to an old kind of theater. You could say you were celebrating a tradition rather than satirizing it.
IF Yes, that is it. To me the quality of those language tapes has the same quality as those backdrops, which is a kind of innocence. I just loved those tapes, the little skit they make for a language lesson. And I long for that innocence. To me the loss of that innocence and over-sophistication is a crime against humanity. It’s like a violation of the personality or the environment with pollution.
AF In your work you often juxtapose beauty and horror.
IF Right. And innocence … A lot of people have said to me about Mud and Sarita that they like it, they feel very much, but they feel at the very end there is a hole. “What are you saying?” they ask. “That there’s no hope?” One of the critics said of Mud that it’s saying there’s no way out. I wasn’t saying any such thing. Even though Sarita has a tragic ending—she kills her lover and then goes crazy and to a mental institution—I’m not saying any such thing! I’m showing what could happen. Precisely. I’m giving them an example of what ispossible. There are works, though, in which you feel the writer is relishing in the despair, in the pain. And now, how can you tell the difference between one and the other? It’s something you feel in your heart. You know the writer doesn’t have to show the good side. It doesn’t have to be there. It’s in the spirit of the work and you know in the spirit of the work immediately whether the writer is just relishing in pain. Maybe it is that these people who want the uplifting message right in the character’s lives rather than in the spirit of the play—maybe it is that they can’t tell the difference in those that are relishing in pain and those that are talking about goodness.