Laurie Anderson

born in 1947 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois; lives in New York

Biography

Studied art history at Barnard College, New York

1972 Completed Master of Fine Arts with focus on sculpture at Columbia University in New York, studies under Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre

1977 Development of the viophonographs as well as other experiments with sound

Collaboration with William S. Burroughs, Peter Gabriel, John Cage, Philip Glass and others

Since 1995 in partnership with Lou Reed, married 2008

2004 Laurie Anderson was the first Artist in Residence in the NASA program

Visual Arts and Music

Visual Arts and Music

As a media and music pioneer, the performance artist, inventor and poet Laurie Anderson became an important figure in the US post-war avant-garde as early as the 1970s. In addition to the invention of innovative electronic music instruments, such as the »viophonograph« (1977) or the »vocoder« (1981), which she repeatedly used in later performances to alienate her voice in order to flirt with gender roles, she experiments with text, image, body and technology both visually and acoustically. In spite of the strong impact of new technologies —

especially the lavish stage shows with large and multiple projections —

Anderson remains reserved towards techno-affirmation. As promising as the cybernetic utopia (fusion of man and machine) may seem, the needs for life and sensuality should not be suppressed by it.

The borders between visual and audio are not easy to draw in Laurie Anderson’s oeuvre. Even though music is the focus of her work, the artist articulates as a painter, filmmaker and sculptor. This in turn manifests itself in stage designs for performances or the most recent virtual reality installation The Chalkroom (2017), in which a tension between technology and aesthetic practice is repeatedly created.

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The content of Anderson’s work draws on experiences from her cosmopolitan life, which she processes humorously and allegorically by reflecting herself in her environment. Her subjects are political and social topics, particularly criticism of social hierarchies which she questions in relation to gender roles.

Automatic progress and the computer technology which grows out of this have fed the techno avant-garde since the industrialized modern period with visions of man and machine becoming one. The brutal belief in progress of this cyberneticist is challenged by Anderson through disclosures of the vulnerability of this technological ideal. As a media artist who is able to fuse the interface between art and science in an experienced manner, she pleads for a consistently human reception of new technological possibilities and refers to the unconditional necessity of man in a techno utopia.

Her installation Headphone Table from 1978 is a participative sculpture with a specific sound experience that involves the body of the person viewing it. Sound waves are transmitted via the forearm bones and the palms of the hands into the ear by means of two transfer surfaces, which are embedded at the head end of each table. Laurie Anderson thus refers to the resonating body of the human skeleton the importance of which is all too often overlooked in the reception of sound. Music recordings can be heard at both ends of the table, one vocal, i.e., human voices, and one instrumental.

The Chalkroom (2017), a project realized with the Chinese media artist Hsin-Chien Huang by Anderson in 2017, is a virtual animation, that makes it possible to explore a parallel linguistic, visual and sound reality. This is also where Anderson’s pictorial skills come into play; the black and white drawings correspond to the style of her painting.

In her early days, Laurie Anderson was in contact with iconic artists of New Music such as John Cage or Philipp Glass, but did not directly follow their avant-garde approaches. As part of her fundamental examination of techno developments and utopias and their trans-human promises, she first turns to an engagement with the instruments as tools of the musician and questions their possibilities against the current background. This leads her to the invention of the viophonograph, a violin which she technically updated by mounting an electronic pickup head on the bridge and installing a recording device inside. The violin bow is a specially recorded magnetic tape that plays forward and in reverse as it is bowed.

Author: Lona Gaikis

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Laurie Anderson

O Superman, 1982, with Laurie Anderson, 7:27 min

With this song, part of her larger work, United States Live, Anderson made number 2 on the UK Singles Charts in 1981 after the influential British radio moderator and DJ John Peel promoted it. That made it explode into fame from being barely known outside of the artistic circles of the artist. First released as a single, the 1982 song was part of her debut album Big Science.

The content of the song corresponds to the guiding theme of her work: Technology and communication versus humanism. In a mixture of pop music video, info-clip and prophetic oracle, she sings of her homeland, the United States of America, and its technological and geopolitical conquest. Inspired by Arie Ô Souverain, ô juge, ô père (O Sovereign, O Judge, O Father) from Jules Massenet’s Oper Le Cid (1885), the introduction is a repetition of the text »O Superman / O Judge / O Mom and Dad«, whereby »Mom« and »Dad« are to be understood both as an allegory to the homeland as well as her mother tongue.

Against the background of the hostage-taking in the American embassy (Nov. 4, 1979–Jan. 20, 1981) and specifically triggered by the tragic crash of a military rescue helicopter off Tehran, this song is a critical reflection on imperial power interests and violence, which Anderson ultimately contrasts with the hegemony of Mother Earth.

Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!

Author:

Lona Gaikis