And Living in a Giant Clock
Anna Simon
I first became acquainted with Laurie Anderson after someone played “Weird Science” for me a few years ago. I think of her, along with Yoko Ono, as one of the performance greats, artists with backgrounds as classically trained musicians who manifest their drawing, sculpture, singing and composition talents into resonant stage performances. These women have honed conceptual and performance techniques that have become part of our artistic vernacular, and I’m try not to take them for granted.
As I waited to pick up my ticket Saturday night a woman in her mid-forties turned to me and asked if I’d seen Anderson’s shows. “No,” I said. “I’m too young.” Which was mostly true. Thank you, PICA—for this has been the first chance of my life to see her. Saturday’s show suddenly and perfectly illustrated everything I’ve heard.
Anderson’s “talking songs” began at a simple place, with an image and a line. She’s walking down an empty road and a car races by.
“Hello, excuse me, can you tell me where I am?” she asks.
Through the course of the show Anderson gave us place markers to help answer this question, loosely focusing on her experiences as NASA’s first artist-in-residence. She took us from her studio in New York to a small country town where a man who doesn’t work for the phone company fixes phone wires. From a duet with an Italian owl to an armed Turkish symphony audience. There were musings on symmetry, beauty and art juxtaposed with science, technology and threats from the air. These spoken anecdotes were both dreamy poems and sharp observations, often humorous and never alienating. The more Anderson described our modern world, full of contradictions and dreadfully straining for something above us, the less I knew where I was.
There was a stage lit by dozens of candles that, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell if were placed randomly or arranged in some cosmic order. Here was a custom-made electric viola, a “personal wailing Greek chorus” that scored the interludes between stories. And there, opposite a comfortable red armchair, was a screen that glowed for a few minutes with an image of Anderson, upside-down, as seen from the tip of her electrical bow as she played a melancholy reprise.
I’ve read a lot of gushing on the blog about this performance, and I join in completely. But in the service of art writing, I hoped to say why. May it suffice to say that Anderson commands all the skills a performing poet needs: musicality, timing, presence and deep insight.