It’s the late, northern autumn of 1994 and we’re sweating hot in a colored fever dream.
Mere reproduction or computation be damned; technology had become a tool of creation, beauty, confederation, enlightenment, social justice — and we wielded the fucking gun. Marshall McLuhan was our patron saint, Louis Rosetto our Thomas Paine. And there, on the cover of the ninth issue of Wired Magazine, the “Common Sense” of our techno-utopian revolution, was the pale, interlaced simulacrum of our Poet Laureate: Laurie Anderson.
And indeed, our collective dream materialized from the ether to become commonplace, albeit in unforeseen silhouettes, spitting and starting. Our optimism and naiveté was merely a placenta: elemental, but easily discarded. With Anderson, though, it seemed like a prophecy fulfilled: our portrait of her was to be hung over the mantle of NASA; she would be their inaugural artist-in-residence.
Surely she would sing to us of rocket propulsion and solar sails, string theory and undetectable dimensions, robots and the singularity, jumpsuits and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, death and emptiness and the unknowable. With her halcyon voice, she would wrap this gift in our humanity, hold it together with an orchestral software bow, and garnish it with a fluttering little tag:
To: The Horizon of Our Noble Apprehension
From: Aunt Laurie
Alas, what we get with “The End of the Moon,” the culmination of Anderson’s 2-year stint at NASA, is decidedly dull, barely more than a disappointing series of anecdotal vignettes told meditatively in the dark. Instead of possibility and quantum mechanics, we’re fed tired, insipid September 11th suddenly-everything-has-changed metaphors embedded in a is-grandma-done-babbling-yet story about her rat terrier, Lola Belle. Or trite, high-school philosophy one-liners about how “life is like bad art.” There are loose themes running throughout her performance, to be sure, but they’re wildly apophenic at best. None of Anderson’s narrative cooing feels any more new, inspirational, challenging, or enlightening than your average coffee shop conversation.
The show is not without its moments. The set’s art direction is compelling: an entropic sea of tea light candles in clear glass holders splay across the stage, punctuated on the left by a deep red armchair and on the right by a canvas-laden easel bearing an abstract, soft-focused projection of the moon’s surface. Anderson does manage to align her subject material to the production at times: at one point, she narrates into a handheld camera while her black-and-white, fish-eyed visage slowly floats behind her, upside-down, a space-walking Apollo-era astronaut viewed through a porthole window. It’s the kind of beautiful, simple moment that you expect from Anderson, where her technology soulfully delights and illuminates without celebrating itself.
By her own admission, Anderson has avoided populating “The End of the Moon” with a thick artifice of hidden meaning. And while her ease and conversational tone is welcome, the slow-paced banality of the material is coupled with what may be her most technically minimal production to date. One wonders if Anderson has always had so little to say, only now exposed by the lack of technological spectacle. In the end, it may be that Anderson has given all of herself to the zeitgeist, her thoughts admitted into the cultural canon, her techno-wizardry now possessed by every kid with a laptop. Elemental, but easily discarded.