Laurie Anderson has a message for us humans
Anderson was born in 1947 to a large eccentric family outside of Chicago. She was one of eight children. Growing up in this home meant marinating, constantly, in language and stories. One of his brothers was called Thor; a sister was called India. At dinner, each child was to tell the story of their day – a recitation that could go on indefinitely and include a bewildering variety of incidents and styles. On Sundays, their grandmother would take the children to church, and Laurie became fascinated by the dreamlike surrealism of the Bible: “talking snakes, an ocean that suddenly parted to form a road, stones that fell apart. are turned into bread and the dead brought back to life. These stories, Anderson later wrote, “were the first clues that we live in an irrational and complicated world.” Two of Anderson’s younger brothers were twins, and as children they invented a private language so elaborate that it caught the attention of a linguistics scholar It was, in other words, a perfect childhood to produce Laurie Anderson: a deep normalcy bent by sharp blows of strangeness.
With so many people around, Anderson found it easy to slip out and do his own thing. She savored her freedom. She used to take long bike rides and ice skate on ponds. In elementary school, she joined a gang of girls who threatened to put out boys’ eyes with sharp sticks. In sixth grade, Anderson founded a painting club whose members posed nude for each other. Every day, for many hours, she practiced her violin. On Saturdays, she would take the train to Chicago, where she would study painting at the Art Institute and perform in the Chicago Youth Symphony.
Anderson’s parents were a study of contrasts. His father was friendly, funny, affectionate. His mother was formal, distant, intimidating, difficult to read. Anderson describes her mother as some kind of bottleneck genius: she went to college at 16, got married young, and immediately began having children. In her rare spare time, she read avidly. She designed the family home herself. One of Anderson’s earliest memories is waking up in the middle of the night, around 4 a.m., and seeing his mother still awake, alone, reading. “She was very smart, very focused,” Anderson told me. “She really should have been, like, the head of a big company. But she was caught in a generation of women who couldn’t do that. Every morning, when Laurie left the house, her mother offered her one piece of advice: “Win!” Anderson remembers thinking: what does this mean?
Later, the voice Anderson would use in his artistic performances – that distinctive blend of casual and formal, fluid and hesitant, hot and cold – was a combination of his parents’ voices. His father’s sneaky tongue-in-cheek; the precise and ironic detachment from his mother.
In college, Anderson studied biology for a year. But that only confirmed his desire to make art. In 1966, she moved to New York and plunged head first into this world. She studied at Barnard and wrote reviews for Artforum. At the School of Visual Arts, she studied sculpture with Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre. The trend at the time was to make huge, heavy monoliths out of steel, but Anderson decided to work primarily with newsprint. She would strip the New York Times and fashion it into bricks, or cut several newspapers into long, thin strips and weave them together. Already, she was manipulating stories, cutting them, crushing them and mixing them.
The art world, Anderson realized, was not designed to feature storytelling, the art form she had grown to love as a child. Museums were designed for objects, not for the human voice, because it moved words through time. Early on, Anderson became obsessed with the challenge of getting stories across in art galleries. She started experimenting with audio, video, performance. His work is increasingly oriented towards the voice: seeking the border between voice and non-voice, speech and non-speech, history and non-history. She built a talking “robot” out of plywood and put on a concert for car horns. She made small clay figurines, on which she projected Super 8 films so that the statues seemed to move, to speak, to live. “Fake holograms,” she called them. Little by little, she succeeded in bringing her origins from the Midwest to New York. She found a way to invite everyone in art to sit at the table in her childhood dining room.
Marina Abramovic first heard of Laurie Anderson in 1975. Abramovic was living in Europe at the time, day to day, sleeping in his car, traveling from country to country to make the performance parts that would ultimately make his reputation. She and her partner, Ulay, braid their hair together and sit back to back in a gallery for 17 hours, or they strip down and run across the room and repeatedly bump into each other and fall. In the midst of it all, Abramovic heard about something wild going on in Italy: A young American woman was doing street performances in Genoa. Each day she would choose a different place in town and stand there playing some kind of cyborg violin – there were tape loops and speakers inside, so the violin would play pre-recorded violin music. , and the American was standing there and playing the violin with himself. A “violin that plays by itself,” she called him. But that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was that this young American girl played her experimental violin while standing on ice skates, and the blades of the skates were frozen in two huge blocks of ice – as she played her cyborg violin, as crowds of Baffled Italians would gather to watch, the blocks of ice she was standing on would slowly melt and the skates would eventually crash onto the sidewalk, and that would be the end of the performance. Anderson would stop playing and walk away. She called the play “Duets on Ice”.