Saturday, July 5, 2008

Laurie Anderson - O Superwoman

It is difficult to write about a performance artist and portray exactly what she does. Her medium is experimentation, and it is not meant to be easily categorized. For example, in one of her most memorable of performances, Laurie Anderson stood on a block of ice, playing her violin while wearing her ice skates. When the ice melted, the performance ended. That gives you a clue...but still doesn't cover it.

Since that time, Anderson has gone on to create large-scale theatrical works which combine a variety of media—music, video, storytelling, projected imagery, sculpture—in which she is an electrifying performer. As a visual artist, her work has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum in SoHo, New York, as well as extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

New York Times, Horizontal/China Times, Vertical,
woven newspaper backed with mylar
unframed: 22.5” x 13.5”

She has also released seven albums for Warner Bros., including “Big Science,” featuring the song “O Superman” which rose to number two on the British pop charts.

In 1999, she staged “Songs and Stories From Moby Dick,” a strange, cool, operatic interpretation of Herman Melville's 1851 novel.

Called "America's multi-mediatrix" by Wired magazine and a "modern renaissance artist and agent provocateur" by Philadelphia Daily News, Laurie Anderson (born 1947 in Chicago, Illinois) is—in her work as a performance artist as well as musician, poet, writer, and visual artist—one of the most important artists of the later 20th century. She is, by far, one of my personal favorites.

My first exposure to Anderson’s work was with an exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum followed by a concert in Houston, Texas back in the early 80’s...or was it the late 70's? I later passed her on the streets of New York and remarked that she, herself, was a walking piece of art. Anderson was not just another face in the crowd of performance artists being generated in NYC at that time. Of all those claiming to be "performance artists, she was one of the few with a completely realized vision. Deceptively simple; one woman, a keyboard, a violin, and a microphone; her performances were part concert, part storytelling, and part visual presentation that utilized the most modern technology available to examine society's reactions to technology's quick development and sudden availability to the general public.

Handphone Table (When You We’re Hear( 1978
Pine table with folding top, two build-in cassette recorders, amplifiers
42” x 66” x 13”
(106.7x 167.33 cm)
The piece above was in that first exhibit. The picture hung directly over the actual table shown and viewers were instructed to sit at either end and to cup our hands over our ears just as you see in the picture. Our elbows fit nicely into little indentions in the tabletop. Underneath was a subwoofer that emitted low base tones which would travel up our arms using our bones as conductors, and into our ears via the earphones our cupped hands made. It was phenomenal.

In 1975, Laurie Anderson created a fake hologram by projecting a two-dimensional Super-8 film of herself onto a small, three-dimensional clay statue. Titled “At the Shrink’s,” this work drew connections between the physical projection of a film onto a screen with psychological projections that occur between a patient and psychiatrist. The work was also, in Anderson’s words, “a way of doing a performance without being there.”

During her concert that same year, I witnessed her playing her self-invented "tape-bow violin" that uses recorded magnetic tape on the bow and a magnetic tape head in the bridge.

Anderson’s flair for wry critique reappeared in one of a series of television public service announcements she recorded in lieu of making videos to support one of her albums (“You can get away with a lot,” she noted of the commercially questionable plan, “if you say it with a straight face”). The announcement found Anderson in a greasy spoon diner re-telling, often to hilarious effect, the stories of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as a series of “questions about fire” and “a surrealist masterpiece,” respectively.

The National Anthem
If you can’t see the video click HERE.

Women and Money
If you can’t see the video above, click HERE.

Laurie Anderson graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, in Art History from Barnard College in 1969. In 1972 she received an M.F.A. in sculpture from Columbia University. During the mid 1970s she toured extensively, presenting her work in alternative performance spaces throughout the United States and building a dedicated following. During 1983 she performed her United States in the United States and Europe, and in 1986 released the film Home of the Brave. In 1987 she received an Honorary Doctorate from Philadelphia College of the Arts, and in 1996 received honorary degrees from Cal Arts and the Pratt Institute. In 1994 HarperPerennial published Ms. Anderson's Stories from The Nerve Bible, and the early 1990s saw her present The Nerve Bible in performance throughout the United States and Europe.

In April of this year, Laurie Anderson married longtime companion Lou Reed in a private ceremony in Boulder, Colorado. They are Mr. and Mrs. New York.
Here is a video of the two of them performing together:

If you can't see the video, please click HERE.

Anderson was awarded the 2007 Gish Prize for her "outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life."


machinarex said...

I think I know what my "music to pack to" for the afternoon is going to be now!

mermaid musings said...

So glad for such a perfect union.
Lou Reed is one of my favorite Life poets ;-)

Stacy Alexander