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Send Karen Finley a NSFW Text and She'll Send You a Personalised Painting

The NYC performance artist encourages you to send her as many smutty messages as you can within a ten minute timeframe.

There are a few standard responses you can expect when you send someone a smutty sext—a bespoke painted portrait isn’t necessarily one of them. Unless your intended recipient is acclaimed performance artist and poet Karen Finley, that is.

As part of her interactive performance Sext Me If You Can, Finley is creating bespoke paintings inspired by the NSFW messages you send her. The performance is presented by Australian contemporary art publication Dissect Journal, as part of an exhibition titled Tell Me What You Have and I Will Know What You Are that coincides with the launch of its third issue. 

Participants can purchase access to an Air BnB bathroom in Melbourne, where they will be provided with a phone number and are free to sext the artist freely within a ten minute time slot. Finley, in return, will create a personalised artwork inspired by the text and images she receives. The process will be streamed live on the Dissect website.

Karen Finley is no stranger to artistic depictions of sexuality. She’s been performing works based on sex since the 1970s, and in the 1990s sued the United States government’s National Endowment of the Arts when the body refused her an artist grant on the basis of her “indecent” subject matter. In the wake of the controversy, the NEA stopped funding individual artists altogether.

Finley’s involvement in the Dissect Journal project comes in part from her concern about recent arts funding cuts in Australia. “I was so sorry to hear that there has been a cut in arts funding in Australia,” she tells The Creators Project. “Artists and art organisations work and live on shoestring budgets and I understand the constraints all too well.”

Since the culture wars of the 1990s that she helped fight, Finley notes that arts funding in the United States has greatly declined. “Clearly it has been a tragedy,” the artist says.

Yet she’s been lucky enough to continue her practice, in part buoyed by the New York art scene, fairly well-funded compared to its interstate allies. Sext Me If You Can arises from her interest in promoting freedom of expression of what she calls “the uncensored body.”

“I am a big user of the body in all of her variations and power in my own life, my personal and public relationships,” the artist explains.

There’s no such thing as a weird or over-the-top sext. “This piece is about the unshaming of sext practice—or the un-weirding of perceptions of intimate exchanges.”

Finley has previously performed Sex Me If You Can in public gallery spaces. Performing this iteration of Sext Me If You Can in private is partly a practical concern—Finley has numerous performance commitments New York, and Melbourne is a long way to travel when text messages can be transmitted across oceans in seconds—and partly a thematic one.

“I love the Air BnB location as exhibition space,” she says. “The performance is about the intimacy, composition, the sending and receiving—there is a long history of artists and galleries setting up shop, occupying non-traditional spaces as alternative sites to the dominant location. This decision to go AWOL is purposeful, to question current sanctioned viewing and exhibiting.”

So how exactly does one go about turning someone’s intimate urges into art? Like real sex, a sexting exchange comes down to responsiveness. “I have to work by listening with my eyes quickly, for the energy is in the pacing, to keep the momentum of the exchange,” Finley says.

 “I cherish the gifts of the sexts as gestures—yet not all are obvious. In fact most aren’t, and those are hot too. A toe, a neck. A close up of skin.” 

Sext Me If You Can begins on August 17 and continues until August 21. Participation in the performance is LGBQTIA* inclusive and strictly 18+. Book a sexting session with Karen here, and find out more about the performance here

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