Laurie Anderson | Photo by Pascal Perich
LAURIE ANDERSON ON HAIKU
CHICAGO HUMANITIES FESTIVAL
Laurie Anderson Urges Exodus Back to Reality
Laurie Anderson sat like a statue, not moving a muscle or saying a word, as she stared out at a near-capacity auditorium Wednesday at Francis W. Parker School. The uncomfortably silent moment — a clever response to a question posed by an audience member about how to emphasize the present — personified the bizarre unpredictability of her hourlong conversation with Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director Martha Lavey at the Chicago Humanities Festival event. While few personalities better suit this year’s Tech Knowledge (pronounced “technology”) theme than Anderson, she presents a challenge due to her aversion to scripts and adoration of eccentricity.
Renowned for cutting-edge works that span spoken-word presentations to visual immersions to experimental albums,” Anderson has embraced, manipulated and incorporated technology in art ever since staging street performances more than three decades ago. A composer, photographer instrumentalist, poet, sculptor and filmmaker, she evades singular descriptions and attracts unique invitations, whether the latter take the form of collaborations with international museums, installations in outdoor gardens or positions as NASA’s first (and last) artist-in-residence. On multiple occasions, Anderson expressed disdain for formula and championed mistakes and spontaneity. In recounting how she happened upon the creation of a singing table after a typewriter malfunctioned, she praised producer Brian Eno for the manner in which he recognizes the opportunities afforded by faults. No matter the technology at hand, she hinted, it’s impossible to bang out and force together a meaningful project. Ironically, many of Lavey’s inquiries seemed to try to steer Anderson toward giving responses with a pro-technology slant. And each time Anderson sensed she was prodded in a certain direction, she became more politely resistant and opted to offer existential interrogations of some of the larger issues at hand.
“What does beauty mean?”
“What are you looking for?”
“When is a piece of art finished?”
“What is real and what is not?”
Anderson posed those questions and others, at one point stating, “I don’t even think that we’re here right now” while admitting to believing in an illusory dimension. Anderson wasn’t being strange to attract attention or elevate her reputation as an outré thinker. Diverting from expectation, Anderson frequently criticized modem technology, suggesting it is largely responsible for humans losing touch with who they are and what they’re doing as a species. She admitted a current preference for grittier, more physical and less digital ephemera, saying an abundance of technology can birth a “new poverty”— inhabitants driving big cars and living in huge houses but lacking money to buy requisite supplies for the upkeep of their possessions, and starving in the process.
Her observations extended to sonics and why it’s beneficial to watch animals listen to their surroundings.
“It’s sickening to make music that becomes MP3’s,” Anderson said, denouncing the digital files that compress music to allow more of it to be stored on a computer drive. She complained that compression destroys the spatial aspects of recordings and accused the technique of lessening our experience with aural sensuality.
To illustrate her points, she invoked dogs and their sense of hearing before launching into a humorous albeit sincere story about devising a “Music for Dogs” concert in Australia that she deemed the best day of her life.
If, in Andersen’s eyes, technology eradicates the full potential of our consciousness, she finds solace in simpler communication. The New York resident expounded upon how the haiku, stripped of metaphors and related comparative devices, forces one to be in the moment and boasts the capacity to remind of us of places we’ve never been. However plain, language, not technology, said Anderson, remains the basis of realities supposed and actual, the foundation for the stories that shape our purposes and identities.
[from Chicago Tribune, Arts + Entertainment, Nov.4, 2011]