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Laurie Anderson

American Multimedia Artist and Musician

Born: June 5, 1947 - Glenn Ellyn, Illinois, USA
Movements and Styles:
Performance Art
,
Installation Art
,
Video Art
"I'm always curious about the mechanics of the story, who is narrating and I like to try to play with that. I learned how to use the word 'you' from William Burroughs.. I was into more slightly playing with the autobiographical I, but Burroughs was really wonderful at saying 'you people, you people who are in the audience' ... so I began to write somethings that were addressed that way, almost like political speeches."
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Laurie Anderson Signature
"Secretly I do think that stories can, as you say, cure you but you have to find out what's wrong first. So my goal would never be to make anyone feel better, ever, because I ... I try to make stories that really engage my mind ... I certainly would never say that it's to make things better."
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"I try to play around with small elements in it which you are no longer sure who the narrator is and what the situation is."
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"When young artists say "how did you start?" I always just say 'try to do something on the right scale, something that you can do yourself, instead of dreaming of these big systems that will solve all your problems, the big camera you need to do that, you know, use a small camera'...I really think that very dangerous art can be made with a pencil...I'm very hands-on, I really love keeping it simple."
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"Everyone is always multitasking, you are reading your email and you're having a conversation at the same time and you are aware of what's going on over there and maybe sooner or later we're going to implode, but for the moment we can almost do that. Maybe we'll catch up and maybe we'll get a little faster. I hope actually we get slower, because slower for me is deeper."
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"When I hear ideas about 'Art should make the world a better place' it just makes my blood run cold. I'm like 'Better for who?' Secretly I do make work to make the world a better place but I would never say that...I guess I just did."
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Summary of Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson is a highly acclaimed performance artist who also became an unlikely pop star in the 1980s. She was a pioneer of multimedia Performance and Installation art, before crossing over into the popular music industry with songs from her large-scale performance pieces, later producing full albums for commercial release. As one of the first artists of her downtown New York context to achieve a level of commercial fame, she was at the forefront of debates around the influence of mass media on the art world. She has since been recognized as being remarkably ahead of her time in embracing of new technologies in art and performance practice, and in her engagement with new media to share her work.

Anderson is a classically interdisciplinary artist, drawing on the forms, techniques and strategies of many different art forms and expressing herself across a huge array of different mediums. Performances, music, installations and film works are often autobiographical in nature, and encourage a sense of intimacy with the viewer through her characteristically meditative tone and calm delivery. Despite this calmness, Anderson's work often features political content and engages with societal issues. Her work often involves mediating and changing her own voice as she tells stories and narrates her thoughts, framed by the striking images she creates through props, costumes and the innovative use of projection and lighting. Her artworks therefore often have a futuristic, almost science-fiction aesthetic.

Accomplishments

  • Anderson's practice straddles several distinct artistic disciplines, questioning the division between them and opening up new hybrid possibilities for artists and musicians. She draws on her abilities as a musician, performer, conceptual artist, scientist and inventor to blend together aesthetic elements from art, theatre, opera, popular music and scientific and technological experimentation, also encouraging the cross-pollination of audiences between forms.
  • Technological innovation has always been key to Anderson's work, from her aural experimentation with tape loops, overdubbing, and recording technology in the 1970s and 80s to her use of projection and experimental theatrical lighting. This introduced new aesthetic vocabularies to galleries and performance spaces. She continues to innovate with her most recent digital experiments in virtual reality and binaural sound.
  • Her work has been particularly significant in the development of performance art in the 20th century. Anderson embarked on high profile and large-scale performances in the 1980s that introduced the more traditionally theatrical elements of large and carefully designed sets and props, extensive rehearsal and repeat performances to an art form previously dominated by spontaneity and a DIY aesthetic.
  • Electronic music has also been hugely influenced by Anderson. Her pioneering use of synthesizers, vocoders, and sampling technology on her albums in the 1980s are regularly cited as an inspiration by later musicians, as they were some of the first records played on commercial radio and TV.
  • Anderson contributed and corresponded to the postmodern dismantling of hierarchies of culture, making clear to her audiences, and artists inspired by her, that the border between 'high' and 'low' culture was artificial. In her work concepts and strategies rooted in experimental art forms and influenced by other artists and art movements are used within mass media contexts, such as the music industry or commercial television. And ideas and aesthetics from television, popular music, and commercial theatre were similarly brought back into the 'high culture' context of the gallery and opera house.

Important Art by Laurie Anderson

Progression of Art
1978

Handphone Table

Handphone Table is one of Anderson's earliest sculptural pieces. The work consists of a five-foot-long table incorporating a concealed sound-system which, in turn, emits low range vocal tones through one end of the structure and instrumental music at the other. Just like the sound-system that produces them, however, these sounds are hidden inside the work and are inaudible in the absence of a viewer. In order to access them the audience must not simply be present but actively engage with the sculpture by positioning his or her elbows onto two depressions on the tabletop and using their hands to cover their ears. Sharing wood's porous properties, the bones of the listener begin to serve as conductors which allow for the sound to travel through the arms to the ears and allow Handphone Table's music and poetry to be heard. Anderson has said that the work was inspired by an experience she had whilst resting her head on her hands while using an electrical typewriter.

More than a sculpture, Handphone Table is an investigation into both sound and materials, informed by the artist's own musical training. But the work achieves also something else: it breaks with a tradition wherein the object of art is something to be looked at. In a manner similar to Anderson's later performances the body is made to function here "as a working part of the machine", as Erin Striff writes or, in this case, as a musical apparatus. "I tried to be as quirky as I could," Anderson has said in relation to her early practice, elsewhere noting that, "at that time none of us thought we would ever be professional artists or that anyone would ever pay us for doing any of this. So it was this really crazy innocent moment". The work can therefore be said to represent the experimental scene and atmosphere in early 1970s New York, with precedents in the Dada movement, such as Marcel Duchamp's With Hidden Noise from 1916.

MASS Moca, North Adams MA

1983

United States I-IV

United States I-IV is a seven-hour-long multimedia performance that combines earlier versions of her performance United States with newly developed material. An audio recording of the performance was subsequently released as a 5-LP album by Warner Brothers. The performance, which combines text, music, photography, film, and projected drawings, is thematically organized into four sections: 'Transportation', 'Politics', 'Money', and 'Love'. While the different sections "share many recurrent images and musical motifs" writer and critic Stephen Holden points out that the sensation is similar to "driving across the country from East to West, with no specific destination in mind."

Anderson's United States is often praised for the "heterogenous mixing of genres", and for being ahead of its time in its ambitious combination of musical performance, projection and written text. It's combination of forms was an inspiration to performance artists in terms of scale and potential, and to musicians inspired by its careful and detailed coordination between visuals and music. RoseLee Goldberg suggests that United States I-IV is most significant in the fact that the performance was still "accessible to mainstream audiences" despite being highly experimental and innovative, and that Anderson's achievement of "crossing from avant-garde obscurity into the so-called mainstream without compromising her ideas or aesthetic integrity' would ensure the performance's continued significance in the 'annals of art history".

In terms of content, United States presents its audience with common phrases and expressions which within the context of the performance are left devoid of meaning and perhaps rendered threatening. Even the things we do and say habitually, all the simple gestures we often take for granted, carry with them, for Anderson, the potential to be misinterpreted or, worse, emptied of all meaning.

The performance also alludes to NASA's launch of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft in 1977, which carried with them recorded sounds and images selected by a committee chaired by cosmologist Carl Sagan. The contents were intended, as President Jimmy Carter enclosed message read, as "a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting," he wrote, "to survive our time so we may live into yours". As with much of Anderson's work, humor is an important element in United States I-IV. This is something she acknowledges herself in the performance with the line "I see myself as part of a long tradition of American humor." And yet, as theorist Kathryn Van Spanckeren argues, "despite its humor, Anderson's work, like Kafka's, is full of metaphysical angst...To enjoy Anderson, in fact, we find ourselves...laughing at the apocalypse - fiddling as it were, while Rome (America) burns." This sense of angst builds throughout the performance towards the conclusion that "The United States helps, not harms, developing nations by using their natural resources and raw materials".

First Performed in 1983 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music before touring to London and Zurich

1990

Personal Service Announcements

In 1989, Laurie Anderson released Strange Angels, her fourth studio album produced for Warner Brothers Records. It was alongside this that the series of videos Personal Service Announcements were produced and aired on commercial music television (particularly MTV and VH1). The artist had been asked by the studio to make a music video, but this was something she found conceptually difficult to approach, and she decided instead to create a series of self-contained video pieces to promote the album. She later admitted that "in the end they had nothing to do with the songs", with Anderson exploring in the series a variety of topics, including women's salaries (she is a founding member of the Women's Action Coalition), military spending and the national debt. The videos were subsequently collated in the 1990 VHS release Collected Videos.

It was not only in the choice of topics that the videos differ from more conventional music videos, but also their mode of presentation. In one of the clips, Anderson is discussing the American national anthem from inside the smoky kitchen of a diner, while a cook grills meat in the background. She observes to the camera, "Hey, can you smell something burning? I mean...that's the whole song" - thus jarring viewers out of their typical habits and viewpoints. As with much of her work, here humor is a key aspect of its effectiveness in engaging the viewer. All of the videos in the series deploy humor in their engagement with topical political issues.

This series of videos is most notable for the way in which Anderson plays with the form of the music video, and its relationship to popular culture. They are exemplary of her blending of high and low culture, which has been a consistent theme throughout her career. Anderson writes that as America gets more conservative her "reactions to this are driving me further into the politics of pop culture. I want to know what the motor is, what is driving this culture further and further to the right ... The art that I like the most and the art that I aspire to make helps people live this life as well as possible. It is engaged in this world ... This means being involved with the aspirations, lies, and dreams of what is so snobbishly called low culture."

Anderson's Personal Service Announcements filter ideas developed within the frame of contemporary art practice through a popular culture lens that encourages the widest dissemination possible. In this they preempt the video-centric engagement with political discourse intrinsic to social media, and artworks which intervene in mass media forms.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

2004

The End of the Moon

The End of The Moon is a 90-minute-long performance created as part of Anderson's artist residence at NASA between 2003 and 2004. In a similar vein to United States I-IV, the piece explored a number of different topics around contemporary life and culture - from NASA's application of nanotechnology and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to consumerism and fear. "Nominally," she explained in an interview, the work "is my official report as the first NASA artist-in-residence, but the stories include things about war, my dog, trees, people I've known, theories."

In The End of The Moon the artist exhibits her skill in constructing compelling narratives. An example of this is the story she tells about the time she was "up in the mountains" with her dog, Lolabelle, who was acting strange after encountering wild birds for the first time. Lolabelle, the artist speculates in her monologue, must have realized that "she was prey" and, then in turn that predators can come from the air. "For the remainder of their trip, she would keep looking up, "scanning the thin sky like there's something wrong with the air." But Anderson also references Lolabelle's expression as one that she had seen before: "I realized it was the same look on the faces of my neighbors in New York in the days right after 9/11, when they suddenly realized first, that they could come from the air and second, that it would be that way from now on ... it would always be that way." What begins with the artist recounting a fairly everyday moment involving a dog and their owner soon becomes a powerful analogy for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

Unlike much of her previous work which features extensive use of technology, The End of the Moon employs little more than Anderson's own voice and violin, a set dressed with votive candles and a small projection of a crater on the moon. Talking about the work some time after its completion at a press conference, Anderson explained that in retrospect she came to understand that the piece was, in fact, one primarily about loss. When asked what this loss referred to, Anderson responded that "I wrote this text when we began the war with Iraq," and that she finally realized in attempting to answer the question, that "what I had lost was my country."

Toured Internationally 2004-2006

2005

The Waters Reglitterized

Anderson's installation The Waters Reglitterized presents the viewer with works of art developed from dreams. "For the last year," she explains in relation to the work, "I've been on the road with a solo performance. Every night another theater, another hotel room. As the months went on my dreams became wild, relentless. Headless singing squirrels, vast spaces, bizarre clatterings, I began to draw these dreams literally out of self-defense. The more I drew, the more they began to look like notes towards a bigger picture."

Comprised of drawings, prints and video-work, the installation, as art-critic Charlie Finch notes, takes its title from an essay on painting by Henry Miller written for his friend Emil Schnellock in 1949. Miller writes "Before falling to sleep last night I ordered my subconscious mind to remember, on waking, the last thought in my head -- and it worked." Like Miller, Anderson attempts with The Waters Reglitterized to remember and navigate her own dreams. For her, dreams are "more than just pictures but portrayals of physical sensations and emotions." This is something she expresses most aptly in the drawings included in the installation which have an almost fluid quality and feature warm, saturated colors.

For example, in Fox, the artist's video work for the installation, Anderson focuses on a dream she had the summer before exhibiting the work in 2005. Here, as Finch describes, "we see the back of Laurie's head under a red velvet curtain watching her brother photograph a woman's corpse on the floor of a hotel lobby while a fox circles and sniffs the body. Crinoline and chicken wire frame the scene like sashes and wallpaper in a Vlaminck." While Anderson never shows her face during the video, her movements suggest that she is confused by the scene - she appears, from the back, to be rubbing her eyes - reproducing the experience she wakes up. The dream, filled with surrealist imagery, is not one that is as difficult to decode for the audience as the artist. Kiki Seror relates the female corpse in it to the one which features in Duchamp's final work, Étant Donnés, "only she's clothed out of respect." Yet the exact meaning of the dreamscape remains a mystery. "Every viewing washed and deluminated this masterpiece," Finch finally writes of Fox, "like one of Henry Miller's watercolors, but our hunger for clues was unabated."

Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

2015

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus is a collaboration between Laurie Anderson and Mohammed El Gharani consisting of a video installation and soundtrack. Gharani is a former Guantánamo Bay prisoner whose story Anderson first discovered through the human-rights organization Reprieve. First arrested when he was just 14 years old, Gharani spent 7 years imprisoned, before his charges were dropped in 2009. In Habeas Corpus, he is present through a live video transmitted from West Africa, interspersed with a series of pre-recorded clips and projected onto what Anderson describes as a large, white "film sculpture" - a cast which ecohoes Gharani's seated shape three times bigger than life size. This scale was inspired by Lincoln's Memorial in Washington D.C. The piece is accompanied by swirling drones made for the performance by Anderson's partner Lou Reed.

Despite his innocence - he was first imprisoned for "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" - Gharani, like other former Guantánamo detainees, is not permitted to enter the United States. This contradiction is at the heart of Habeas Corpus, the title of which refers to the legal term for a person's protection against unlawful imprisonment and which means "you shall have the body" when translated literally. This piece delivers the audience Gharani's body digitally, exploiting the uncanny possibilities of simultaneous video link. Anderson has worked on projects exploring similar themes since the 1990s, a concept that she calls 'telepresence' and offers prisoners a kind of virtual escape or infiltration. This is made clear by the fact that Gharani is able to not only exist within the space of the United States in the performance, but to communicate with visitors, whose experience was transmitted to West Africa through a camera.

For most of Habeas Corpus Gharani sits motionless and silent - "conjuring," as critic Will Hermes writes, "something of what solitary confinement might feel like." As a prisoner, he was often subjected to solitary confinement, as well as to torture. When, once every hour, his silent image is replaced by pre-recorded clips of Gharani speaking, his occasional smile reveals a broken tooth that was the result of beating during his imprisonment. In a memorable instance from one of these pre-recorded sessions, the former prisoner tells the audience about saving bits of soap so that he could write on his prison door in order to learn English. Adding another layer of meaning to the work is, finally, the knowledge that the Armory's Drill Hall, where the installation was presented, was once the locus of military exercises.

Performed at the Park Avenue Armory, New York City

Biography of Laurie Anderson

Childhood

Laurie Anderson was born in the Glenn Ellyn suburb of Chicago in 1947. She was originally named Laura Phillips, and grew up in a family of ten with four brothers and three sisters. At the age of five, Anderson began studying classical violin. As she explains, "All the kids were more or less forced to play an instrument. And some of them had absolutely no musical talent whatsoever. But they banged away on things anyway, because my parents thought it would be nice to have an orchestra." As a teenager, she would practice up to six hours a day, and often performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony. Anderson also took advanced art classes at the Institute of Chicago, and her early years were split equally between music and painting.

At the age of sixteen, she relaxed her intense relationship with the violin, as there were "too many other things" she wanted to learn. As she remembers, "I loved books and I loved to paint", but she recognized the commitment needed to move into a professional career as a musician limited her ability to pursue these other interests. Moreover, her experience of meeting professional musicians at the time left her underwhelmed. They were so focused on music, she recalls, that they were often lacking in other areas: "There was a cellist who was a wonderful musician. I remember talking to her once, and there were a couple of words that she seriously mispronounced... I was quite astounded and I thought, 'I don't want to be like that. I want to learn to talk." She ultimately "chose not to play. It's one of the few things in my life that I'm proud of: that I actually had the foresight to know I didn't want to do that."

Language, which would come to play an important role in Anderson's later artistic practice, fascinated her from an early age. Her mother taught her to read at seven, with Anderson remembering that she "would love to climb to the top of a tree and read a book", with "so many worlds opening up that way." Anderson's interest was also nourished by the large collection of spoken word records in her family home, which she remembers always preferring to music: "The first one I remember was something called 'Letters from Dad'. It was from a soldier to his family. I thought those were really good, because he described what life in wartime was like," she says. Stories and storytelling therefore formed a large part of her imaginative life as a child, and Anderson remembers inventing a long series of stories to encourage her little sister to sleep. These featured the recurring character of a kid called Judy Marie and were "pretty epic...they were really pretty crazy".

In 1960 Anderson ran for President of her Student Council, and wrote a letter to John F. Kennedy (at the time seeking election as President of the United States) to ask for advice. Kennedy's campaign had made a strong impression on Anderson, and, to her surprise, she received a long and warm response that helped her win the election. After writing to Kennedy again to thank him, he responded with a telegram reading "Congratulations" and 12 red roses. The story made the front page of the local newspaper under the headline "Local girl receives roses from Jack Kennedy." This was likely the first publicity the young Anderson received, and also demonstrates that even at the age of 13 she had a developed awareness of social and political realities, and a willingness to engage in action. Throughout her life and work, she has continued to do the same, often speaking out against war, social inequality and climate change.

Despite her musical skills, interest in language and storytelling and artistic ambitions, Anderson went on to study biology at college. "I changed my mind about what I wanted to be fifteen times before I was twenty - a doctor, a chemist, all kinds of things," she explains.

Education and Early Training

While studying biology at Mills College in Oakland California, the artist found herself producing graphs using chlorophyll she had extracted from plants. This process reminded her how much she enjoyed painting, and rekindled her ambition to pursue it. In 1966, she transferred to Art History at Barnard College in New York, the city to which she had decided to move. After graduating in 1969, she went on to study at the School of Visual Arts for a year, where her artistic focus again shifted, from painting to sculpture. "I studied there with Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre. The sculpture department was much more interesting than the painting department there. I was very excited by minimal art and minimal art theory. Actually, I loved the way people talked about it more than the work itself. I always feel that I like the words better than anything else...books and talking." The following year, Anderson enrolled at Columbia University to pursue an MFA in sculpture. But she did not find the department exciting, and she was censured by the school "for doing things that weren't welded and weighty," she explains. "I was working in fiberglass, which is very fragile."

After graduating, in 1972, she began teaching 'Principles of Art History' at City College in New York whilst also working as an art critic for a number of publications, including ARTnews and Artforum. The artist remembers that at the time she would just show up at offices of the magazines and ask if they needed a writer. She also took a number of other jobs around that time, including producing illustrations for books. Anderson's view of these roles was that her writing, teaching and illustration were all simply ways of supporting her development as a sculptor. As she developed her practice, she began to incorporate her own body and sound into the works to a greater extent.

In 1972, Anderson created one of her first true performance art works, Automotive, in which she orchestrated car horns on a public common in Rochester, Vermont. She also began to perform the piece Duets On Ice, which also took place in public. Wearing ice skates that had been frozen in blocks of ice, she played cowboy songs on her self-playing violin - "an instrument," as Jon McKenzie explains, where "music unwinds from magnetic tape loops". This allowed her to perform a duet with herself, with the performance only ending when the ice melted. In 1973 Anderson hitchhiked to the North Pole, where she saw the northern lights - an experience that she found so strange she considered it as a sign of the end of the world.

Her performance work and increasing profile as an artist began to lessen her dependence on side-jobs and supplementary roles, and with the support of a number of art world friends, collaborators and artistic grants she continued to develop her idiosyncratic combination of narrative, striking visual aesthetics and music. In 1974 she performed As:If, a piece encouraged by Vito Acconci, at the Artists Space in Soho, where she combined a series of personal stories with blown-up projections of words and a drone-like soundtrack.

The musical dimension of her work led her to release her first single in 1977, 'It's Not the Bullet That Kills You - It's the Hole', an upbeat song led by Anderson's violin playing, which met with some underground success. In 1979 she performed Americans on the Move at Carnegie Recital Hall at the request of gallerist Holly Solomon for the occasion of her husband's birthday. Anderson remembers that Solomon asked her 'How about a party?'," to which the artist replied 'How about a concert?'. Solomon agreed, leading to the large-scale performance and greater exposure for her practice. Anderson's reputation in America and Europe quickly grew, leading to the New York Times calling her 'the best and most popular performance artist of her age'.

Part of Anderson's growing profile stemmed from the fact that she was able to traverse boundaries between art forms, genres and artistic media. As art-historian RoseLee Goldberg writes, Anderson belongs to a generation of artists, who were "nurtured on twenty-four-hour television and fast food, picture magazines and B movies," and whose "graduation coincided with rock and roll's twenty fifth anniversary, and with its ironic reincarnation, punk." As an artist who had already met with some success by the end of the 1970s, she was able to draw on all of these influences and experiences, as well as her musical and artistic training, to create highly innovative and original work.

Mature Period

Laurie Anderson's success was solidified in 1981 when her self-produced single 'O Superman', an eight-minute track from the larger performance work United States, rose to number two in the UK Singles Chart. The record became a surprise hit after it was championed by DJ John Peel on his nationally broadcast late-night music show. Anderson remembers that the record was first distributed by mail order, with people caling her directly to ask for a copy, the process being one where she would "go over to a carton, pick it up and go to the post office with it. I had pressed 1,000 records'. After it had begun to be played by Peel, she remembers getting a "call one afternoon from a guy in Britain who said 'I'd like to order some records. I'll need 40,000 Thursday and 40,000 more on Monday.'" Following this unexpected phone-call Anderson reached out to Warner Brothers to ask if they could help her produce the records, something she had previously done independently from her home-studio. Warner Brothers instead signed her to a seven-album deal off the back of the success of 'O Superman' in Europe.

Anderson went on to record the albums 'You're the Guy I Want to Share My Money With' (1981), 'Big Science' (1982), 'Mister Heartbreak' (1984), 'Strange Angels' (1989), 'Bright Red' (1994), and 'The Ugly One with the Jewels and Other Stories' (1995). The artist also become interested in film and television productions and, in 1985, wrote and directed the idiosyncratic concert film Home of the Brave, featuring various friends and collaborators including William S. Burroughs.

In 1992, Laurie Anderson met Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground. "I met Lou in Munich," she tells Rolling Stone, "we were both playing in John Zorn's Kristallnacht festival which marked the beginning of the Holocaust". Reed later asked her to perform a piece with his band. "I liked him right away," she remembers, "but I was surprised he didn't have an English accent. For some reason I thought the Velvet Underground were British, and I had only a vague idea what they did. I was from a different world". Upon returning to New York, the two became close: "Lou and I played music together, became best friends and then soul mates," she says. "[We] traveled, listened to and criticized each other's work, studied things together (butterfly hunting, meditation, kayaking)". We made up ridiculous jokes; stopped smoking 20 times; fought; learned to hold our breath underwater; went to Africa; sang opera in elevators; made friends with unlikely people; followed each other on tour when we could; got a sweet piano-playing dog; shared a house that was separate from our own places; protected and loved each other".

During the 1990s, Anderson's work became more overtly political, dealing particularly with questions of isolation and community, censorship and destruction. In April 1995, the artist presented The Nerve Bible at New York's Neil Simon Theatre, further developing her classic performance elements of meditative narration, music for violin and electronics, and striking visual imagery created by lights, projection and futuristic costumes. Anderson's work evolves by developing elements and pushing them further to arrive at next ones. The Nerve Bible is a good example of this recombination of recognizable elements from previous work and features the line: "History is a pile of debris, and the angel wants to go back and fix things ... But there is a storm blowing from paradise...blowing the angel backwards into the future. And this storm, this storm is called Progress", which might almost be a mission statement for Anderson's development as an artist.

Recent Work

Anderson is an artist who enjoys being challenged and shocking herself out of complacency. In July 2001 she worked at McDonald's, an experience pursued as a result of her personal directive to 'escape this trap of just experiencing what I expect". She explains that "I decided maybe I would just try to put myself in places where I don't know what to do, what to say, or how to act. So, I did things like working at McDonald's and on an Amish farm, which had no technology whatsoever."

In 2002, Laurie Anderson was invited to become the first artist in residence at NASA, a position she held for just over a year. She said that "the opportunity came about completely out of the blue" after "somebody called and said 'Do you want to be the first artist in residence at NASA?'". Although neither NASA nor Anderson were at first sure what such a position would entail, she toured several facilities for inspiration, including the Hubble Space Center and The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, before eventually producing the performance piece The End of the Moon.

Due to pressure from Congressional politicians over the potential waste of government funds allocated to scientific research, and the fact that the piece did not relate favorably to their plans to revisit and further exploit the moon's resources, NASA discontinued their artists-in-residence program. For Anderson though, the experience was a constructive one. She has since said of the residency: "It made me question my criteria for the work I do. It made me wonder what I'm looking for, especially when I heard things like the fact that Einstein rejected some of his own theories because they were ugly. So what was he looking for? Scientists have many of the same issues when they look for hidden things as artists do".

Anderson's marriage to Lou Reed, after 15 years of romantic partnership, was also an experience pursued in a spirit of innovation and personal challenge. Anderson remembers talking to Reed and saying that "there are so many things I've never done that I wanted to do,' [...] 'I never learned German, I never studied physics, I never got married'". Reed responded by suggesting that the two "meet halfway" the following day and get married. "And so the next day, we met in Boulder, Colorado, and got married in a friend's backyard on a Saturday, wearing our old Saturday clothes, and when I had to do a show right after the ceremony, it was OK with Lou". The two remained together until Reed's death in 2013. Remembering their life together after Reed's passing, Anderson explained that "somehow, for 21 years, we tangled our minds and hearts together ... I'm sure he will come to me in my dreams and will seem to be alive again. And I am suddenly standing here by myself stunned and grateful. How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives". In 2015, the artist directed the acclaimed Heart of a Dog, a dreamlike feature-film inspired by the life and death of Lolabelle, her beloved rat-terrier, and dedicated to her late husband Reed.

Anderson continues to make work from her home in New York, frequently pursuing concepts and ideas across projects in multiple media. "I'm teaching myself a lot right now," she told The New York Times in 2017, "...in trying to talk about what stories are, how you make them up, what the difference is between fiction and reality. I build those fictions all the time and call them my life."

The Legacy of Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson's career spans four decades and her contributions to the histories of performance art, experimental music, contemporary visual art and installation have received wide recognition. Her work represents a synthesis between the concerns of the different mediums of music, visual art and performance, and reflects the changing nature of spectatorship at the end of the 20th century. As scholar John Mowitt writes, it "participates in those broad cultural transformations that have thoroughly remapped the subjectivity of contemporary spectatorship, undermining the traditional structures of aesthetic identification". In the art world this has helped provide the critical framework for practices that combine music, video, installation and images, including contemporary artists like Christian Marclay, Jeremy Deller and Susan Stenger.

Anderson's music has been cited as an influence by a diverse range of musicians, including St. Vincent, The Big Pink, Spiritualized, Francesca Lombardo, Clinic, Frank Sidebottom, Cut Copy and James Dean Bradfield (of the Manic Street Preachers). Anderson has also collaborated directly with a number of musicians in the later part of her career, including the Kronos Quartet, Colin Stetson, Jean Michel Jarre, Peter Gabriel and her husband Lou Reed, which introduced her music and art to new audiences in the genres of jazz, pop, rock and modern classical music. David Bowie covered 'O Superman' on his 1997 'Earthling' tour, confirming Anderson's status as an influential figure to many artists who are more widely known.

Theatre-makers and performance artists influenced by Anderson's multimedia performances include Robert LePage, Isaac Butler, Tim Miller, Katie Mitchell, Forced Entertainment and Complicite, who explicitly cite Anderson as an influence and/or create performances which similarly deploy projection, modified voices and fragmented narration in a manner deeply reminiscent of Anderson's work. These elements are also deployed by many younger performance makers including Dickie Beau, Louise Orwin and Lauren Barri Holstein, who similarly combine custom props, set and highly stylized projection with modified and amplified voice and narration. As the teaching of performance art and live art is expanded in colleges and universities, Anderson's practice is becoming a major influence on younger artists as a key part of the development of the form.

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Laurie Anderson
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    Sophie Calle
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    Jean-Michel André Jarre
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    Cut Copy
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    Susan Stenger
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    Isaac Butler
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Content compiled and written by Lilly Markaki

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church

"Laurie Anderson Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Lilly Markaki
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church
Available from:
First published on 01 Apr 2018. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]