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Laurie Anderson touches down


Art-rock legend Laurie Anderson touched down in Philadelphia last week to give a talk as part of the ICA’s 40th Anniversary celebration.

The talk was the third in the ICA celebration series, number two being Richard Artschwager (see posts, 2/15/03 and 2/15/03 ) and number one having been wild-and-crazy first full-time ICA Director Sam Green (which I missed but heard later via recording). More outstanding artists who have shown at the ICA will be giving talks in the fall.

andersonlaandlolabelleherpetterrier In accordance with Anderson’s amost pop-culture, multimedia status as a musician, performance artist, poet, and installation artist, specializing in ambitious pieces built around deep thoughts, an enormous crowd (by art standards) of about 400 showed up. Like me, they seemed to be charmed by her 10-foot-deep dimples, her good nature and her gift for spinning a yarn. The audience even filled the aisles and pressed in across the back in front of the doors at the auditorium at Penn.

andersonbigsciencecd Afterwards, she even had a fan ask for her autograph of his laser disc (I forget what was on the disc and I’m not clear if the fan was Canadian filmmaker Mark Achbar or not, but I’ve got his name scribbled in my notes along with the name of Achbar’s film, “The Corporation,” to screen in Philly in April).

NASA calls

Anderson mostly talked about what she’s up to vis-a-vis making art (or what she’s wondering about) these days, and it’s, as usual, out of this world. Literally. Turns out she’s NASA’s artist in residence.

andersonduetsoniceHow this came about seems a little mysterious to her. The phone call to her studio from NASA struck her with disbelief. “You’re not from NASA,” was her first response, she said. Her second response, unspoken, was still skeptical: “Some fan knows what my ultimate fantasy would be.” That line earned her a laugh. Eventually she asked her caller, “What does an artist in residence for NASA do?”

That one she’s still trying to figure out. (Shown here in an early, groundbreaking performance, fiddling while the ice melts. Her skate blades are embedded in the ice.)

Time and the garden

While figuring out her artist-in-residence role, she’s trying to integrate all her newfound NASA experience–visits to all the NASA facilities, watching the Mars rovers being built, etc.– into a piece she’s doing for EXPO 2005 in Japan. It’s a Japanese garden (she’s working with a Japanese gardener and a committee–a first for her, she said) and she’s thinking of ways to incorporate music, video, and Mars rocks and other images from the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

andersonmobydickWhat she’s mulling over is the concept of time in a Japanese garden: The plum tree, she said, represents the shortest time possible. It drops its petals on a rock, representing a different amount of time. (Image from performance “Moby Dick.”)

“I’m putting images from Mars in that context,” she said.

andersonscreenmomAnother issue in Japanese rock gardens is “also how much of nature is really alive and in what sense it is alive.” Like Japanese haiku poet Dogan, Anderson said she wonders, are mountains aware? rivers, trees, rocks? “And we’re searching for life on another planet.”

“…As you can see, I’m desperate to pull these things together.”

Walk on the free side

andersonlaurieandlouTime is also a part of her other major thread of undertakings (shown with her partner, singer Lou Reed). She’s trying to get out of cyberspace (“I’m a supergeek,” she cheerfully opines). So she is taking walks and keeping records–photos taken by a credit-card-size camera, diaristic 1- or 2-minute radio spots. She wonders about how walks, which are unprogrammed and come at you like life, in time, can be integrated as art work, with a beginning, middle and an end. She’s been taking walks in France, in Greece along the “Sacred Way” (passing through the crossroads where Oedipus killed his father) and Milan.

andersonshadowplay “I don’t walk very far. If I can’t make the daily quota, I take a cab,” she said with typical good humor, earning herself more laughter. Then she tempered the modesty of the enterprise with another admission: “I have a walk producer.” She makes sure Anderson has the essentials, like a toothbrush, for the route.

Anderson also squeezed a little bit of politics in (I can’t resist including this, but I must admit she had so many other great things to say that I left out and I’m feeling a wee bit guilty): “Last fall I got really irritated. There were a lot of theories about how our Founding Fathers were God-and-Country guys. But they were reading Voltaire and Diderot. [It was the time of]… the Enlightenment. OK, the French Revolution had some bad patches, but they did think of this idea of Liberty.”

andersonblackboardAnderson’s walks, she said, are the opposite of religious pilgrimages. They are not an obligation but rather a form of freedom, she said, still thinking about the concept of liberty.

After talking a bit about working for the Greek government in its planning of the Olympics opening ceremony, a job now on hiatus for lack of funds, she answered former ICA Director Janet Kardon’s question of whether she ever makes drawings.

andersonwowmometchingAnderson said she does–for example her plans and proposals for the Japanese garden. “I guess I don’t use paper and pencil. A computer pad gives me just about the same satisfaction.” (Shown, “Wow Mom” etching)

Large and small

Afterwards, gallerist Shelley Spector wanted to know if Anderson ever does small projects. Anderson said she has a month each year dedicated to accepting calls for small project (the month changes each year). “If you call me in that month, whoever calls, whatever it is, I’ll do it. So it’s my festival month.”

Very John Cage, don’t you think?

I just want to add here that Anderson still looks pretty much like she always has, physically petite and self-contained, her hair still spiky. Self-contained, however, does not describe her manner, otherwise. Her smile and delivery are warm and amused by life and its contradictions.

She was born in 1947, by the way, and looks about 40! A guess on how she does it: She has dwelled so long in cyberspace, land without time.