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Karen Finley and Cynthia VonBuhler Perform

Honey Not Yams This Time

By: Charles Giuliano - 09/23/2013

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Cynthia VonBuhler.
Cynthia VonBuhler.
Karen Finley. Giuliano photo.
Karen Finley. Giuliano photo.

Remember the name: Countess Cynthia Von Buhler. A rising star and soon to be a major motion picture. Coming to your megaplex.

She has it all: looks, talent and balls. Which is saying a lot for Boston. The closest we have, by media consensus, to a rising, international superstar.

Recently, the Countess, Cindy to her many friends, staged a four day event. On a Thursday night there was the opening of an exhibition she curated, Royally Fucked, at the Dietrich Gallery, which is a suite of rooms in the Goth flavored, Castle, she shares with her husband, rocker, Adam Von Buhler. On Friday night the band she fronts with her husband on guitar, Countess, which has a demo deal with MCA Records, opened for performance artist, Karen Finley, at the rock club, Paradise. On Saturday night, she sold out the Institute of Contemporary Art for a performance of her, Penis Monologues. On Sunday afternoon, those still left standing, showed up for the group show, Adults Only, at Boston’s HallSpace. The show also featured erotica by the artists Robert Siegelman, Linda Leslie Brown, Joseph Wardwell, Mary Behrens, Gary O’Connor, and Anna Shapiro.

Cindy’s piece is a vending machine that dispenses plastic capsules, for 25 cents, containing either her pubic hair, menstrual fluid, or nail clippings. Take your pick.

The media blitz started several years ago. One story I read played her up as a dominatrix presiding over a dungeon in Allston. I checked out her site, http://drawbridge.com/countess. There I learned of her many activities as an award winning illustrator, visual and performing artist and rock star. I expected someone who tans butts and walks on backs with spike heels.

Later, at an opening in Allston at the Dan Elias Gallery, he of Antique Road Show fame, I was introduced to the Countess. She looked pretty and somewhat demure in a little black dress and dark shades. The clue to her other life was a handbag shaped to hold a gun. I wondered if she were packing.

“Charles, it’s me, Cynthia,” she said as we were introduced. “You know me, Cynthia Carrozza.” It all came back in a flash. Indeed, some years ago I had known her as a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Boston. She was doing PR for the school and had modeled for an interesting piece by a colleague, digital photographer, Greg Garvey. Over the years, I had lost touch, while her career as a Countess had developed. I remembered her as a sweet, fresh and charming woman. A pure delight.

But now there is that well crafted media image. Although she confides being a bit shocked and amazed with the angles the press comes up with. During a photo shoot for Boston Magazine, for example, she happened to be wearing a T Shirt emblazoned with , “Fuck You, You Fuckin Fuck.” When the story appeared everyone wanted the T Shirt which she sent out as a post card announcement.

The gallery now sells that shirt. I wanted one but settled for a more discreet black number with the logo for the Royally Fucked show. When I told my wife, Astrid, that I wanted the “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck” shirt, she asked where I would wear it. “Oh when I teach,” I replied. Indeed that would certainly raise my stock with various deans. But it also cuts to my ambivalence about existing in the straight world of academics and wanting to hang with the kids.

For an old fart it was a thrill to rub elbows with the young and the restless, scene makers, lounge lizzards, and other night crawlers who flock to her events and swarm over the Castle. The Von Buhlers have provided so much quality beer to their peers that they should open their own brewery.

The Royally Fucked show featured a group of young artists who have adopted Royal personas. It is a new generation equivalent of the great jazz legends, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Earl Bostic, Lady Day and the Prez. In Royal drag, looking amazingly fem, Princess Sophia Solar Michalski, (AKA arts leader, Kathleen Bitetti) singed autographs and granted audiences. The hard core, pseudo Japanese porn comics are created by King VelVeeda.

Cynthia’s sister, a doe eyed, gazelle, and recent graduate of Mass. College of Art, Christina Carrozza, has no royal handle to speak of but creates costumes straight out of Swan Lake and Snow White. A stunning, deer in the headlights neophyte, compared to battle hardened big sister Cindy, right now she is her own best model for her cutting edge designs. Go girl.

On Friday night we gulped down an early dinner to race to the Paradise where the doors were scheduled to open, first come first seated, at 6:30. There was a line when we arrived at 7 and an announcement that the doors would open at 7:30. I was crushed when security failed to check our ID. That hurt. Then there was another hour or so delay before the show actually started. That, I explained to Astrid, is precisely why I quit covering rock and roll. The delays. It’s ok when you’re a kid, but intolerable as an adult. Better to cover the movies. They start on time. And the smoking. The three bone heads that sat in front of us chain smoked. Cool.

Eventually The Countess came on. Cindy was wearing some hot pink latex number with matching spiked heels. There were a couple of similarly attired babes who faded after the first number. And some mop haired, Angus of AC/DC wannabe, flailing around on the bass. Such energy.

The band was loud, so I can’t report much about the lyrics. There were a lot of props which helped the plot. And, Oedipus, the program director for the hip WBCN, provided an occasional narrative. There were some outrageous moments including two corpulent strippers of indeterminate sex, with big boobs, who took dollars from their g strings and garter belts to toss into the audience. And, at one point, Cindy/Countess peeled off her black thong and tossed it to the crowd.

All that was followed by another interminable intermission.

Eventually Karen Finley emerged on a bare stage with a Freudian couch, stool, and music stand as the only props. She wore a long satin dress which she immediate pulled up to reveal her ass which she proceeded to wave at the audience.

That was followed by a bump and grind routine to a Barry White sound track. This included diddling herself, pulling at her nipples and then leaping into the audience thrusting her boobs into men’s faces and a bit of lap dancing here and there.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Karen Finley, one of the NEA Gang of Four, where are you Jesse Helms when we need you.
I had seen her act before and nothing much has changed now that she has settled into middle age (45) which is getting up there for a body/bawdy oriented performance artist. She still has the same crass, working class, horrible, grating, harpy voice. Her harangue and spewing screed, however, seem even more deranged and needy for attention at whatever price. As the act proceeds you are torn between respect for a truly consummate performer who will do virtually whatever it takes for her art, indeed the very essence of performance art, and a very sad and pathetic human being who requires massive doses of medication, love, compassion and therapy. You bounce between being fascinated and repulsed and you see far too much of a body that, quite frankly, you aren’t really attracted to.

To be sure she has her moments. As she settled onto the couch she launched into several monologues using plastic encased cheat sheets. She folds in a lot of local ad lib with home town references to ART, ICA, Mass Art, the Museum School, P’Town, and dares the cop at the back of the room to bust her.

There is a script, of sorts. Something about a dysfunctional Thanksgiving gathering with fragments of anonymous sex and seeing an old boyfriend at JFK airport. Blowjobs in the back seat of a cab. And how much she hates holidays, except as material for performance art. At one point she describes a woman rival as a little bitch (dog that is) complete with yappy little snarly barks that produce froth and foam in her mouth. Positively repulsive. Some of the writing is compelling (read from the cue cards) and has a Joycian/Beat stream of conscious level of pure poetry.

Often she breaks the mood, gets out of character, laughs at her jokes, wants us to love her, that this is all just an act, laugh with her not just at her. Then she can snap into conjuring Tantric demons straight from hell. There are so many levels to her persona. Some poetic and profound, some horrific, some endearing, and too often, pathetic, self indulgent, diva, and disgusting.

Does she hate herself, her body, her father (there are strong references to incest) or just men. Why does she have such a strong gay following. Do they feel her pain.

Then, “It’s Honey Time.” With appropriate theme music. She asks for volunteers who get into the fun of pouring and splashing honey onto a specially prepared area of the stage.

Stripping off what is left of her clothes and dignity, Finley then proceeds to spin, bump and grind, hump energetically. She simulates sex, including a clever trick of a guy, ejaculating honey. It is the avant-garde equivalent of mud wrestling. The audience is transfixed. What a climax, literally, a wild show. She then pauses and utters the single word, “Honey,” in a plaintive voice as though addressing a lover. The audience is stunned and bursts into applause.

It should be over, but it isn’t. Seated on a towel, dripping honey, she reads a final monologue. It should be over. We are exhausted, have lost patience. But she needs more of our attention. One last word, one last thought. Violating the show biz rule of leaving them hungry. Not a taste of honey, but too too much. Sugar, sugar, sugar.

We return to the Castle for the after party. Swathed in towels Karen rushes past us. The Castle is closed until she is post shower ready. Cindy sneaks in and gets us all beers.

Later I chat up Mr. and Mrs. Carrozza, in from Western Mass, who have seen their daughter perform for the first time. He is shocked, reticent, but not surprised. “We have heard the music and seen videos,” he said adding that this was the first time they had seen the band perform. And, how did you like Karen Finley, I ask? More or less silence, which speaks volumes. In all they have six kids, four girls. Nice folks.

In the living room, there was Karen, ensconced in an over stuffed chair. Politely, I asked if I might take a photo. She consented. I mumbled something total groupie like, “Great show.” There was a nod, thanks. Looking into her eyes there was nobody home. “You must be exhausted,” I managed, feeling awkward in the presence of the diva. “Totally,” she said. I left it at that.

Finley: Another Opinion
By Astrid Hiemer

This is my reaction to the Karen Finley performance, which we both witnessed on June 29, at the Paradise Club in Boston:
Isn’t anyone else out there, who will join me and tell Karen Finley: ”Get off that fucking stage and heal thyself.”

In a conversation with STELARC, the Australian Artist, who in the ’70 and ’80 hung himself from his skin, front or back, to ‘fly’ or cross a street at considerable height from one window to another on the other side. He recalled that he finally stopped doing it, so he alleged, when organizations or galleries became reluctant to pay him an honorarium. They much preferred to reimburse him for his props: the rope and a few fishhooks. He always attracted a gawking crowd. And, quite proudly, he remembered that he never needed medical attention. He healed his wounds in the course of a few months.

Did he? Will she?

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