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Home arrow ZOOM arrow [INTERVIEW] Essentially Laurie. Laurie Anderson, musician and experimental artist
[INTERVIEW] Essentially Laurie. Laurie Anderson, musician and experimental artist
Written by Massimo Bran   


To meet Laurie Anderson means, in one word, to meet essence. Really, there’s no other way I can use to describe this condensation of poetry, experimentation, sound, simplicity, vision that show in the many, many ways this unique artist expresses herself and relates to the world. It was so exciting to meet her and, at the same time, a soothing experience. Awe, apprehension are only natural in front of a giant of contemporary culture, and yet they were gone in a second, the time it took for Laurie to smile and establish a connection. Anderson visited Venice in May as an invitee to the Centre for the Humanities and Social Change at the local Ca’ Foscari University. The Centre is the brainchild of Professor Shaul Bassi, who teaches English literature at Ca’ Foscari and who is a staunch promoter of research projects on cultural pluralism. The artist presented her latest book, All the Things I Lost in the Flood. Essays on Pictures, Language and Code, a fascinating, captivating volume and a reflection on the experience of loss, on the mutilation of material memory that follows the destruction of personal memorabilia after a natural disaster. This may be the first act of a hopefully long and fruitful cooperation between the Laurie Anderson and the Centre, seeing as how the two see eye to eye on human rights, environment, and the health of the planet in the broadest possible sense. If this will be the case, as we certainly hope, let’s get ready, because surprise, revelation, and the crossover of the best of modernity will soon gift us with shiny fragments of future and new dimensions of perception.


All the Things I Lost in the Flood seem to portray the urgency of taking back a materility that has been lost in the registry of memory. What does it salvage, what does it add, and what is lost in the process?

The book is about language and substitutions. I realized in the very beginning of the book that listing things was more important than the actual things. There is something iconic in the ability of language to replace things with words. It happens with ideas, too. I made the example of the colour yellow. Whether it’s something tangible that you see or the word, the result is, you have the concept in your mind, and that’s where our experience of the world takes place: in our minds.


Landfall sounds like a grieving process that will help us come to terms with the impossibility to control nature. Almost an act of faith towards Mother Earth.

I wouldn’t call it grieving. Landfall is a work on stories and languages, on the final acts of stories in particular. Think of the epoch we are living now, our final act is very uncertain, nobody has been able to write the final act on climate change. It may very well mean the extinction of human life but is it the story we want to tell? What if there’s no one there to hear it? Is it still a story? Faith doesn’t mean much to me. I am a Buddhist and the nature of mind so I am interested in the studying the nature of mind and how we see things. One of the reason I am attracted to Buddhism is that there is nobody in charge, there’s no authority. For an artist, this is a great thing – nobody that tells you what to do. In Buddhism, everyone is the Buddha. There’s no Mister Big that gets to say who’s right and who’s wrong. I don’t want to be judged. Also, there is something godlike in being an artist because we create things. It wasn’t there before, we create it. That’s a crazy thing to do, create. And we don’t like people telling us what to create. This sense of faith is just something I don’t feel within myself. I have a sense of curiosity. A sense of empathy, I hope. I love the world and love people but faith no, not really. Not in nature, either.


Water is ubiquitous in Venice and is at the same time the source of its wealth and a danger to its survival. What do you think of this duality, especially in light of the theme of your book?

In the book, water comes and goes. It is commonplace for American writers to go out in the water and then look back at the land and see things at a distance, get the full picture. Think Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain… water gives you a certain perspective. When I’m here in Venice, I’m very conscious of all the leavings and arrivings because we step into the water to go somewhere. It’s like steeping into another world and much unlike like crossing the street. Departing and arriving is something you feel at a deeper level, it’s a series of nostalgias that come very quickly. It’s really quite dramatic.


The word multimedia is almost unusable today, seeing how much it has been abused. Venice has an institution, the Biennale, that promotes all the array of the basic expressions of contemporary art. You have often been a guest at the house of contemporary – in recent years, you participated with Heart of a Dog and with virtual reality project Sandroom, best VR experience at the Venice Film Festival. What can you tell us of your experience at Biennale? What can we expect from the new, virtual frontier of cinema?

The Venice Biennale is by far the best of all of the film festivals for presenting VR. The point is a lot of filmmakers hate virtual reality. They’re like: come on, cinema is cinema! People in VR, in turn, call their movies ‘flatfilms’. It used to be called film, now we say flatfilm. 2D cinema. I believe that future cinema will have you walk into the film. It will happen with music, too, you will walk into the music. Technology make us more mobile, you walk around with it. In similar fashion, you will walk around a movie. Not necessarily interact with it, but it will be the future of imagery.


It’s intriguing to enter the world of your creative process, with technological sophistication on one side and minimalist, primal sound on the other – an apparent polarization. How do you feel today about this tension and where is it leading?

I’m not sure I agree with that characterization of my sound. What I do know is that I want to do more and more cool stuff: improv, jazz, more imagination rather than a lot of programming. I participated in a free jazz festival last summer, the guys had primitive instruments and zero electronic. It felt almost dangerous for me and I would have never thought I would be called to the world of jazz but there I was and I loved it. I played with Christian McBride, one of the most amazing bass players in the world – what an adventure it was! There are a thousand worlds I don’t fit in but I don’t care. I just go.


Space is essential in any moment of our lives. This year, the Architecture Biennale investigates a specific theme announced in its very title: Freespace. How far did you take the idea of space in your art? What weigh does architectural space have in your life and in your art?

There used to be a time I didn’t pay much attention to space but I had to change my mind. Atmosphere is so important. Experimentation and multi-disciplinarity are unbelievably productive. Now, the concert as that event where you sit for a period of time and you clap your hands at the end is conceptually, emotionally obsolete. You should be able to bring your own instrument at a concert, to write on a chalkboard what you feel, to do Tai Chi, to dance. Entering the soundscape changes your body. There are some things the body can’t fake, a laugh, for example, which means authenticity resides in the body. I trust the reaction of the free body, a body that didn’t sell out and didn’t lose its ability to emote.