“I’m a so-called ‘multi-media artist’ but I have no idea what that means,” says Laurie Anderson, who brings her latest show, “Delusion” to EMPAC on Friday and Saturday nights.
For those unaware of Anderson’s mix of music, stories, and visuals, the other jargony term commonly applied to her is probably no-less helpful: performance artist.
Maybe it’s better to focus on what she actually produces.
In addition to her touring shows, Anderson has been recording albums, exhibiting works in galleries and museums, and publishing art books at a regular pace since she was a break-out star from the lower Manhattan experimental scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. “Delusion” follows on the heels of her new CD “Homeland” (Nonesuch) and was developed during a series of residencies at EMPAC, the two year-old arts center on the campus of RPI in Troy.
“Because I was at EMPAC the direction of the piece changed completely,” explains Anderson, recalling that her intention was to write a series of short plays. “I was going to give them to actors and thought that might be an interesting way to go. But I don’t know how to write plays and that became very obvious to me very quickly.”
According to Anderson, it was when some of the technical staff at EMPAC offered her the use of fancy digital projections that the piece began to shift direction and jell.
“It was because they were able to put the equipment together so easily that it became a very visual piece,” she recalls. “I’m used to things morphing into other forms. Sometimes I’ll start out working on opera and it turns into a potato print.”
Technology has been a constant in Anderson’s work over the years, both as a topic and a tool. She doesn’t like to make it a fetish though, at least not lately.
“I just try not worship it,” she says. “It used to be new and weird. But at this point it’s not such a great thing for an artist to push a button and say ‘Look!’ Besides, if you don’t have any ideas, it’s nothing. And there are always pencils.”
“I’m trying to represent a kind of mental drift and how your mind works,” she says. “I realized that one third of your time – one third of your life – you’re sleeping.”
“I need at least 8 hours, and 18 hours would be better. And I just had my 63rd birthday and that means I’ve spent 21 years sleeping,” she continues. “What have I been doing all that time? What’s going on?”
Dreams are not new material for Anderson and she recognizes that artists of all manner draw on the dream state as a source of creativity and ideas. Yet Anderson’s not keen on listening to other people’s dreams in casual conversation.
“Someone will tell me ‘There’s this man walking down the road. It was my father. But then it was my uncle…’ And it’s like ‘No, please don’t tell me your dreams!’ They’re a private little world that’s not easy to communicate.”
A weird, floating state of strange associations and personal insights, one might say.
Actually, that’s a pretty good description of a multimedia performance by Laurie Anderson.
Originally appeared in the Times Union (Albany NY).