Re­flect­ing on ex­is­tence

Laurie An­der­son is re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia with an ab­sorb­ing line-up of new and pro­gres­sive works. The artist talks with Ali­son Ve­ness.

VOGUE Australia - - Viewpoint -

Yes to scream­ing,” Laurie An­der­son writes in an email after our phone call drops out (more on the scream­ing later). Tech­nol­ogy is a bitch. We are talk­ing on the eve of her in­au­gu­ral artist in res­i­dence shows at the newly re­branded Home of the Arts (HOTA) on the Gold Coast, where she will be per­form­ing over four days this month. Ev­ery sin­gle part of An­der­son’s res­i­dency will be unique.

The Amer­i­can artist, and wife of the late Lou Reed, is quite in­cred­i­ble; an un­stop­pable pow­er­house of on­go­ing ideas and pas­sion, all syn­co­pated to cre­ate the rich­ness of her mul­ti­me­dia work. She is provoca­tive: rip it apart, look at things anew, be­lieve, play, chew it up, spit it out, en­ter­tain. Think. Feel. She will be in­spir­ing au­di­ences with, among other works, SOL, a 30-minute re­work­ing of the 1972 com­po­si­tion in­spired by her teacher and artist Sol LeWitt, which will be fol­lowed by Sto­ries in the Dark, per­formed, as the ti­tle sug­gests, in dark­ness. There will be Con­cert for Dogs, which she de­buted in 2010 on the steps of the Syd­ney Opera House in the up­per reg­is­ters of dog sound, to to­tal ca­nine de­light, and The Lan­guage of the Fu­ture, a col­lec­tion of songs and sto­ries. We talk about what might be the lan­guage of the now and the fu­ture. An­der­son is at times frus­trated, de­spair­ing, and yet she is em­phat­i­cally get­ting on with it.

“I try to be flex­i­ble; I don’t re­ally care about be­ing com­pletely top­i­cal and up to date, be­cause it’s not a new show: the per­for­mance is about sto­ries and what they are.

It’s an amaz­ing time to be think­ing about that, be­cause ev­ery­one is mak­ing up sto­ries right now,” she says.

“It’s a very amaz­ing mo­ment. I’m very, very happy about that. I was talk­ing to some young women, art stu­dents, like, [aged] 16, re­cently; they are so op­ti­mistic and it’s re­ally in­spir­ing. But in the mid­dle of what they were talk­ing about I was think­ing: ‘Wait a sec­ond, didn’t we do that, like, 30 years ago? Didn’t we fight that fight three decades ago for equal rights for women, and equal pay, and all sorts of things, and just a ba­sic level of re­spect?’ So I re­ally have to think about my idea of progress. Of course, we are mak­ing slow progress, and I have to be op­ti­mistic, but some­times I look at what’s go­ing on and it’s ag­o­nis­ingly slow. It’s prob­a­bly sev­eral mil­lion years of pro­gram­ming to what men and women do, so we are try­ing to do some ma­jor re­or­gan­i­sa­tion here.”

We talk about the #MeToo move­ment. “I did an event at the Town Hall in New York re­cently and it made me think about some­thing I’d done also at the Town Hall in 1992, an event for the Women’s Ac­tion Coali­tion. It was sur­round­ing the Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion of a jus­tice named Clarence Thomas; it was a very con­tro­ver­sial one, as he had made his sec­re­tary read pornog­ra­phy. It was re­ally one of the first kinds of tri­als in the United States where we thought: ‘Wow, we are re­ally talk­ing about pornog­ra­phy in pub­lic.’ So from that stand­point, of all the work we did in the early 90s, here we are at #MeToo, which is a re­ally sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, so I get a lit­tle dis­cour­aged, I have to ad­mit. I’m try­ing not to say that kind of thing, be­cause it’s im­por­tant to be pos­i­tive, but re­al­is­ti­cally this is very, very dif­fi­cult to do. You can’t just sweep in and change it in a cou­ple of weeks.”

An­der­son has been ex­am­in­ing and chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo all her life. Her per­for­mance United States in 1982 (and sub­se­quent United States Live al­bum, re­leased in 1984) was an on­go­ing di­a­logue about the state of the union, which I sug­gest is much like The Lan­guage of the Fu­ture.

“United States was pretty gen­eral, too. It re­ally was about try­ing to live in a tech­no­log­i­cal so­ci­ety. I al­ways like what Gertrude Stein said about that – Amer­ica is the old­est coun­try in the world, be­cause it’s lived in the 20th cen­tury the long­est – and I al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated that. You know it re­ally is and it still feels like an ex­per­i­ment here, and how do peo­ple re­ally con­tinue to talk to each other and co­op­er­ate? At the mo­ment it’s not an ex­per­i­ment that’s work­ing out very well.”

The Lan­guage of the Fu­ture al­lows An­der­son “to look at how things are chang­ing, not just in the States, but par­tic­u­larly [how we’re] in­flu­enced by tech­nol­ogy, be­cause there is so much. And even though I use a lot of tech­nol­ogy, I’ve al­ways been crit­i­cal of it. More and more, I’m kind of re­gret­ting my in­dus­try. You kind of look around and won­der if it’s mak­ing things that much eas­ier for us. I see more stressed-out peo­ple than I’ve seen be­fore, I see peo­ple who are very anx­ious, con­stantly con­sult­ing their phones and not hav­ing as much fun. You love the con­ve­nience, but you hate the cost.”

I ask An­der­son about her ear­li­est mem­ory of per­form­ing pre-tech­no­takeover? “I think it prob­a­bly had a lot of anx­i­ety in it. It was prob­a­bly some­thing like a vi­o­lin recital; they were very com­pet­i­tive and I was al­ways very ner­vous. As an adult I never have been, as a kid it was tough.”

I think of Land­fall, an al­bum re­leased ear­lier this year with San Fran­cisco’s Kronos Quar­tet, which cap­tures a soar­ing mourn­ful­ness with Hur­ri­cane Sandy as the ba­sis for its sound­scape. It is heart-and­soul vi­o­lin, and the rest an af­ter­math of sad­ness. Ex­pect noth­ing less. An­der­son is the def­i­ni­tion of now­ness with all its thorny con­tra­dic­tions: cheer and weary­ing dis­ap­point­ment.

As for that scream­ing, it was about Yoko Ono and her 19-sec­ond protest on the first an­niver­sary of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency. Yes, Laurie is scream­ing. And we are scream­ing in ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Laurie An­der­son is artist in res­i­dence at HOTA from June 20. Go to hota.com.au.

“WE THOUGHT: ‘WOW, WE ARE RE­ALLY TALK­ING ABOUT PORNOG­RA­PHY IN PUB­LIC’”

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