The Sunday Conversation: Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson brings “Delusion,” her latest work of multimedia performance art and music, to UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday. She’s based in New York with her rock musician husband, Lou Reed, and blind rat terrier, Lolabelle, who played piano at the June record release party for “Homeland,” her first album in nine years. But Anderson is still an irrepressible globetrotter; she chatted by phone from São Paolo, Brazil.
What are you doing in Brazil?
A big exhibition of all sorts of things — instruments I designed. It’s a big museum show, a retrospective of stuff. We’re building big listening devices, and we’ve set up various sets from different performances and are doing these big installations. It’s really fun. Basically, my world is big, dark places like theaters, and to put it in a museum context is sometimes strange. This is the first time it’s worked, so it’s really, really fun. Because we have really big cavernous rooms with huge projections, so it gives you the sense of being in a theater instead of some big white-walled institution.
A theater you can wander through.
You can walk through these sets, and they’re really beautiful. We have an excerpt from “Delusion” in the exhibition because there’s a lot of visual material in it. It’s a kind of three-dimensional movie. So we’ve done a version of it here — of course, there are no performers in it. There’s the audio from a show, which works surprisingly well. It’s very eerie.
Tell me more about “Delusion.”
It’s 20 stories with images and music. There are a lot of things in it that sound really pompous. I’m trying to represent what I think of as mental drift — just the way your mind can move from thing to thing. So it helps to have a lot of different media — music and stories and images. Your mind just processes those things so differently. So for example, I’ll tell a story and there will be a violin solo, which is really a kind of comment in music on the story. You can say things in a violin solo like “I doubt it, but it’s a very beautiful thing, but it’s also sad and in the end I think it’s kind of hilarious.” So it’s a real conversation that happens between a lot of media. Not to say I’m super proud of being a multimedia artist. I think for this work, I use other elements that will carry the story, that will make the story a better story.
What kind of delusions do you explore?
Delusions I suppose involve expectations as well. And it begins as a series of, what do you do when your expectations are altered in a major way? Without giving it away, I’ll say that much.
Your new album in part critiques the Iraq war. Do you think that art can still impact the conversation when it comes to politics?
I don’t think politics can impact politics. No matter what we do, it doesn’t impact anything. I feel like it’s unfurling in a way that it can’t stop, no matter what you say. Do I think art can change the world? When I have that question in my mind, I think of Bob Dylan, who wrote songs about losers; he romanticized losers. I think he created empathy. How much do you care about other people, or do you just not care about them at all? To me, that’s politics.
You’ve always been interested in the impact of technology on human communication. How do you think we’re doing with that these days?
Some things are amazingly great. I love texting. I try not to let it get completely out of control. I really do try to actually have lunch with people as opposed to never seeing them ever. But I really enjoy it. And I certainly don’t worship this stuff, but I like using it. And I don’t talk about it that much anymore, because it’s just so ubiquitous. When I started as an artist, it was something to be a techno-artist. Now everybody’s a multimedia techno-artist in some way. And nobody’s thrilled anymore when you push a button and something big happens; you’re going, “Good for you, you pushed the button.” So techno-flash is something I hopefully didn’t do for its own sake; I probably did once in a while. I tried to use it to basically tell stories. I’m not about just showing off the technology.
Over the years, you’ve collaborated with an extraordinary group of avant-garde and popular artists. Is there anybody still on your to-do list?
I didn’t have a list. They were all sort of flukes in a lot of ways; they were in the same room or something. I would love to have Yo-Yo Ma come to a dog concert. That’s one of my fantasies. I did music for dogs in the spring at the Sydney Opera House. And it was a really great show. It started because I was in a green room with Yo-Yo Ma, about to give a commencement speech. And it was very hot and very boring, and we were sitting around and talking about different fantasies. And I said, “My fantasy is playing a concert and I look out and it’s all dogs.” And so, he said, “That’s my fantasy too.” And I said, “Whoa, that’s amazing.” We said, “OK, the first one that gets to do it has to invite the other one.”
When I was asked to direct the Vivid [Live] Festival in Sydney [with Reed] last June, I suggested that along with two weeks of very complicated programming of really great musicians and bands and theater people, I said, “Let’s do some music for dogs.” We thought hundreds of people would come, but thousands of people came with their dogs. And it was just fantastic. So that was a big highlight of my life, and my fantasy is to have Yo-Yo come and we’d play something for dogs together.
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