Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Laurie Anderson

In "From The Ice cube Stage to Simulated Reality: Place and Displacement in Laurie Anderson's Performances,"Silvia Jestrovic stated that the "experimentation with light, music and screen projections have been frequent means of altering the sense of place and exploring the relationship between space, body and sound."And that can be perceived in Anderson's work, since there is a noticeable tension between the real world and the virtual space in her presentations that she aims to explore in each one of her performances.

Laurie Anderson has been exploring and experimenting new concepts in her performances, that for sure transcended the spectator's ideas about how art should look like. Anderson transforms places and ordinary elements of the everyday living into works of art.  She uses a wide variety of media to communicate her perceptions and  concerns. The use of technology, and the use of the  mass and media enhance her message to reach a bigger audience. 

However, "Duet on Ice" is  one of the most characteristic performances of Anderson. In which she uses  her self playing violin, while she stands on skates over ice cubes. She plays alive over her pre-recorded songs until the ice melts and while she tells a particular story about her grandmother. Her best places to perform are different environments, such as the streets, markets and any other public space.  "Most of all Duet on Ice is an interaction with place, be it a physical environment, a cultural landscape, or an internal space of dreams and memories. As the ice melts, the two spaces – that of the performance and of the real world – merge" (Jestrovic 30).

"Place and Displacement" is another performance of Anderson, in which she explores the contemporary world and the use of technology in the everyday living. The real world interacts with the virtual space, which individuals can occupy both at the same time. Moreover, Anderson explores the tension between the two places, the material plane and the virtual space. According to Jestrovic, "Anderson has become famous for using technology as means of expansion of space and body and for employing sophisticated electronic gadgets and musical instruments to amalgamate live and recorded sounds and images" (30). 

Hence, Anderson artwork is a media to point out her concerns about society. Technology is shaping society into a new form and we seem not to be aware of it. Consumerism and materialism are ruling our lives and  "popular culture replaces spirituality" (Jestrovic 35). These are the controversial ideas that Anderson emphasizes through a political an humorous unrest.

From the Ice Cube Stage to Simulated Reality: Place and Displacement in Laurie Anderson’s Performances
Silvija Jestrovic
You can read the signs. You’ve been on this road before. Do you want to go home? Hello, excuse me, can you tell me where I am?
(Lighting Out For the Territories, Laurie Anderson)
Laurie Anderson’s stage persona is most often associated with the figure
of the storyteller. Describing one of her early performances, John Howell
notes that Anderson ‘adopted the guise of an ethereal storyteller’.1 In his
article ‘Laurie Anderson for Dummies’, Jon McKenzie links the story-
teller persona of Laurie Anderson to technology: ‘Mediating in media,
through media, Anderson sinks the oral and literary traditions into her
electronic body in order to investigate electronic storytelling’.2 Anderson
Contemporary Theatre Review, Vol. 14(1), 2004, 25–37
describes herself, as ‘just a storyteller’, and her work as ‘the world’s 3
oldest art form’. In Stories from the Nerve Bible, she writes the following: For me, electronics have always been connected to storytelling. Maybe because storytelling began when people used to sit around fires and because fire is magic, compelling and dangerous. We are transfixed by its light and by its destructive power. Electronics are modern fires.4
Still, the identity less explored by scholars and journalists, who follow Anderson’s work, is that of a traveller – of someone who goes places, whether real or imagined, and returns to tell and sing about what she had seen and experienced.
Anderson has hitchhiked to the North Pole; spent some time in Mexico with Tzeltal Indians – the last Mayan tribe; lived in Berlin; and went to Bali to interview Prince Ubud. These are just some of her travels that eventually became transformed into stories, lyrics, music, and images. The work of Laurie Anderson often focuses on the significance
Cof place and travel: part one of the United States (1983) spectacle is dedicated to transportation; her low-tech show Empty Places (1990) features just one projected image – a road; maps and airplanes are recurring objects in her art; finally, her experimentation with light, music and screen projections have been frequent means of altering the sense of place and exploring the relationship between space, body and sound. Anderson’s performances have involved a wide variety of places including streets, theatres, prisons and cyber spaces. When asked by PBS to create an introductory segment for Program 1: Place, part of the Emmy nominated series Art:21 (2001), Anderson made a dreamlike video about the significance of space.5 In the opening segment of the video, she addresses the viewers from within a gigantic billboard over- looking a busy New York City street: ‘Most of the work that I do as an artist, whether it’s music, or images or a story, begins with a place. A room, a road, a city, a country – these places become jumping off points
for my imagination’. In this short introductory video, she plays with
real and imagined places, travelling in an oversized armchair to Central Park and to a Japanese supermarket.
In the work of Laurie Anderson, places, whether real or fictional, theatrical or musical, public or personal, embody Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia. Unlike utopias, heterotopias are real spaces that ‘are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality’.7 Places such as prisons, fairground booths, psychi- atric hospitals, cemeteries, and, one might add, theatrical stages and cyber spaces, are heterotopias. They exist as ‘counter-sites’ to the norma- tive conventional spaces. In heterotopias, as Foucault points out, all the other real sites that can be found within a culture ‘are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’.8 Two aspects of heterotopia are particularly relevant for the notion of space in the work of Laurie Anderson: (1) Heterotopia is not defined in isolation, but rather through its relationship with other real and virtual spaces. The musical theatre of Laurie Anderson creates a cultural landscape in the form of hetero- topia(s) as a network of ‘counter-sites’ that include streets, theatrical sites, virtual places, prisons, and cyber spaces. (2) Heterotopia is a site within which different, even incompatible spaces could co-exist. Anderson’s performances have similar qualities mixing avant-garde and mass culture; combining emotions and electronics; and bringing together real and virtual worlds. Finally, her music has its own heterotopian quality being a fusion between the musical and the visual, combining singing with talking and live with recorded sounds. This paper will explore the dynamics between place and displacement in Anderson’s performances. It will focus on Anderson’s early works, particularly the street concert Duet on Ice (1974), as instances of interaction with place and her well-known hi-tech performances, most notably United States I–IV, as spectacles of displacement and attempts to re-connect with place though technology.
Soon after Laurie Anderson arrived in New York in 1966 to study fine arts at Bernard College, she became involved with the avant-garde art scene. After the political protests of 1968, when students occupied the main buildings of Columbia University, the New York avant-garde grew more political and searched for alternative performance and exhibition venues outside the establishment. Anderson’s artistic career started at the galleries Artists Space and the Kitchen; both places, located in the Manhattan’s SoHo district, were the main performance/exhibition venues for New York avant-garde artists at the time. In the 1960s and 1970s, SoHo became a distinct artistic colony detached from the city’s official political and art system. The avant-garde, being counter-cultural in nature, had inhabited a ‘counter-site’ – a heterotopic space – that Laurie Anderson describes as ‘another frontier [. . .] an alternate site of New York where everyone was hiding’.9
The city itself became a performance site for various happenings and environmental theatre experiments. These performances shifted the relationship between participants and onlookers and challenged the single-focus of orthodox theatre by creating works that involved simul- taneous action distributed through space. Artists tried to re-establish the atmosphere of street-markets, fairground booths and circus as means of subverting the norms of mainstream art, music and performance. Some of these events were highly politically charged, such as the environ- mental performance Guerrilla Warfare (1967), staged at 23 locations throughout New York City as a reaction to the war in Vietnam. Among the performance locations were the Main Recruiting Centre in Times Square and the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Avenue. Other performances explored the theatrical qualities of both art and life such as the festival Street Works I–IV (1969) held in downtown New York that featured renowned performance artists Vito Acconci, Scott Burton and Joan Jones. Laurie Anderson’s performance Duet on Ice was created in the tradition of these experiments; it counted on a random interaction with the audience and on the theatrical dimensions of urban public spaces. In 1974, Anderson performed Duet on Ice in each borough of New York City, fulfilling the public service requirement of the CAPS grant, which she had received earlier that year. In 1975, she took her street-show to Genoa, Italy.
Duet on Ice is a minimalist performance where Anderson uses the Self-Playing Violin11 to perform mostly pre-recorded cowboy songs, while wearing skates embedded in the slabs of ice (see Figure 1). The title of the performance indicates that this one-woman show is in fact a duet, meaning that the performer and the instrument – the Self-Playing Violin – are both active participants in the stage event. In between songs, Anderson talks about parallels between skating and playing violin, about her late grandmother, and about ducks on a frozen lake. When the ice melts the performance is over. Basic elements of this show – the skates with their blades frozen into ice, the violin, and some of the monologues – originated within Anderson’s first full-length performance As: If (1974) that took place at the Arts Space gallery. Nevertheless, when the show moved outside the enclosed and controlled space of the art gallery to the streets of New York, it acquired new theatrical and musical dimensions. As avant-garde experiments of similar kind, Duet on Ice explores liminal versions of theatricality as a device that fore- grounds the immanently artful and artificial qualities of a performance, but also as a means of transforming reality into a play, a happening or a street spectacle.
The type of interaction between the theatrical and the extra artistic space, embodied in Duet on Ice, was preceded by two experimental projects, An Afternoon of Automotive Transmission and Institutional Dream Series, both staged in 1972. An Afternoon of Automotive Trans- mission, which Anderson describes as ‘really horrible’,13 was her first outdoor spectacle. Performed in Rochester, New York, this happening was envisioned as a summer concert for automobile and truck horns. The whole event has a humorous tone featuring musical compositions such as: ‘The Well-Tempered Beep’, ‘Concerto for Land Rover with Six- Cylinder Backup’, and ‘Auto-Da-Fé’.14 Even though mostly preoccupied with sound, this performance also inverts common spatial delineation by reversing the traditional relationship between the audience and the performers. Every summer regular musical concerts would be held in the Rochester Park, with musicians playing in the park’s gazebo and the audience seated on the surrounding grass. Also part of the local custom has been that the audience applauds the summer concerts by blowing their car horns. Anderson places the audience in the gazebo and the performers – drivers and their cars – around it. Reversing the positions and performing the concert of car horns, Anderson subverts the conven- tions of a traditional communal event and turns it into a happening of avant-garde defamiliarisation. As Duet on Ice, this show temporarily transforms an official public space in a counter-site reversing its customary priorities and functions.
While the car concert searches for qualities of otherness within an established circumscribed public space, Anderson’s Institutional Dream Series explores the interaction between public and internal space. This series of photographs depicts Anderson as she sleeps in New York’s Night Court, in a public bathroom, and on Coney Island beach. The photographs document Anderson’s experiment on the impact of place on dreams: ‘I am trying to sleep in different places to see if the place can color or control my dreams’.15 This relationship between external/public and internal space, where the latter is identified as the other – the counter-site – is repeated in the Duet on Ice as Anderson tells her memories to strangers, allowing her personal stories to be altered by these encounters.
As she embeds herself into the mini ice cube stage, Anderson amalga- mates the performer and the performance space. This principle recurs in her more elaborate spectacles where through projections and various other technological devices the space becomes an extension of the performer’s body. In Duet on Ice, resembling a struggling musician who plays in the streets of big cities, Anderson theatricalises her performance allowing the sites and sounds of the city to invade her work. Traffic noises mix with the music and storytelling; on very busy street corners, they even overpower the performance. These ‘accidental’ sounds become part of the musical score, while buildings and shop windows turn into the backdrop of the theatrical event. The duration of the performance is also flexible and it depends on the outside temperature, since the only timing mechanisms of the show are blocks of ice. One of the perform- ance sites Anderson chose for the Duet on Ice, partly to speed up the show, was the ‘Monument of the Eternal Flame’ in Genoa where fire cut the show time in half. Talking to the bystanders between songs, Anderson also provokes a dialogue that intervenes with the structure of her work. In New York, at one time, a panhandler saw her playing and wanted to team up, while in Italy a bystander once altered her mono- logue due to a linguistic confusion: In awkward Italian, I told a group of people in Genoa that I was playing these songs in memory of my grandmother because the day she died I went out on a frozen lake and saw a lot of ducks whose feet had frozen into the new layer of ice.
One man who heard me tell this story was explaining to the newcomers, ‘She’s playing these songs because once she and her grand- mother were frozen together into a lake’.16
In her later, more elaborately structured performances, Anderson continues to play with foreign idioms to explore the relationship between language and place. She is not only interested in language as a vehicle of narration, but also in its cultural implications and sound quality that often becomes part of the musical score.
Duet on Ice explores the possibilities of metamorphoses of the real, the habitual, the ordinary into the theatrical – whether related to everyday sounds and sites of urban spaces or to human interactions. Once the miniature ice stage moves out of a designated performance venue, the artist is no longer fully in control of the performance. The show becomes open to interference of different landscapes and sound- scapes as each part of the city influences the performance in a unique way. Most of all Duet on Ice is an interaction with place, be it a physical environment, a cultural landscape, or an internal space of dreams and memories. As the ice melts, the two spaces – that of the performance and of the real world – merge. The ‘counter-space’ – the ice cube stage – melts into the normative space – the street. In Duet on Ice, the ice cubes become a mini-stage within a large ‘stage’ of the city – a metropolitan teatrum mundi.
Since Duet on Ice Anderson has experimented in various media moving from minimalism to hi-tech performance. She has created works that are hard to place within one genre and medium of presentation: some belong to the family of Wilson/Glass’ brand of postmodern opera (United States I–IV, 1983), others could be described as theatricalised rock concerts (Home of the Brave, 1985), while some are very close to visual art and installation (Del Vivo, 1998). Her shows have been described as ‘elec- tronic operas’, ‘avant-pop musicals’ and ‘multi-media performances’. Anderson has become famous for using technology as means of expan- sion of space and body and for employing sophisticated electronic gadgets and musical instruments to amalgamate live and recorded sounds and images. She has played with a wide variety of materials and electronic devices to map out ‘the territories’ of the postmodern urban landscape in general and of United States as a personal, political, cultural, and – in particular – a technological experience.
In his famous essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), Walter Benjamin points out that the new tech- nology has altered the perception of both art and reality, by means of the speed with which new artistic media are able to capture and freeze images, enlarge them and slow them down. Benjamin and his fellow modernists believed that art, based on new technology, would bring a new political function of art, transform the production apparatus, radi- cally alter the performer–audience relationship, and turn art into a mass phenomenon intelligible and accessible to all. However, the historical avant-garde belonged to a different political and cultural landscape, within which it was still possible to believe in the meaning of history as truth that could be revealed through discourse and artistic creation. The postmodern performance, wherein Anderson’s work belongs, reveals a very different cultural space, that of multiple perspectives through which the status of reality as a stable category is questioned and problematised.
In our contemporary reality technology plays the key role in recon- figuring the relationship between individual and space. Revolution in the mass media and electronic communication has destabilised categories of space and time, enabling – through the Internet and other modern media – new forms of human interaction, new ways of travel and new modes of representation. A stable sense of place and presence is shattered; technology becomes an extension of space and body creating a mediated reality. While Duet on Ice and Anderson’s other performances from the 1970s explore the possibilities of merging and crossovers of different spaces – external/internal, conscious/subconscious, artistic/extra artistic – it does not come as a surprise that her hi-tech performances in the 1980s and 1990s turn into spectacles of dislocation. Anderson, using various technological devices to create effects of doubling and expansion of body and space, makes the relationship between presence and absence, place and displacement, identity and otherness increasingly ambiguous.
She problematises the relationship with place through technology and explores the idea of being in two places at once creating dummies, hologram doubles, satellite projections and computer generated personage. In the 1986 video What Do You Mean We?, hosted by Spalding Gray, Anderson introduces a male clone, who enables her to be in two places at once. Her CD-ROM Puppet Motel (1994) could be read as a computerised performance where the live performer is replaced by a virtual cast. The live audience – the computer interface users – are encouraged to interact with the computerised space and by doing so influence the course of the show. Anderson’s Del Vivo project (1998) is focused on telepresence as a version of both dislocation and virtual freedom. In the gallery space of Fondazione Prada, Anderson, by means of televised transport, presents the body of a prisoner from the San Vittore prison in Milan. This project explores new possibilities of presence and absence and new forms of dislocation and confinement. Anderson describes Del Vivo in the following way:
I’ve made Del Vivo because I’m interested in theatre of real time and in the magic of disembodied body. The prisoner is present in time but spatially remote. Voiceless, unseeing. Del Vivo looks at the way telepres- ence has altered our perception of time and body. It is about voyeurism, our fascination with judgement and justice and the functions of the guarded institution – both prison and cultural institutions.
Modern technology has enabled not only new ways of interacting with place but new forms of placelessness and absence. Moreover, from the 1980s on, the somewhat innocent and spontaneous relation- ship with space, which marked Anderson’s earlier work, has been replaced with the stronger sense of both place and technology as political categories.
The early 1980s was the beginning of an era when politics, history, and show business grew dramatically close, creating a mass televised spectacle of reality. In 1981, Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood film star, was elected President of the United States. During this decade, Yuppies emerged as a social category establishing a new kind of consum- erism, while avant-garde artists became mainstream celebrities. Repub- lican rule continued through the 1990s with the presidency of George Bush, while the grim political and cultural climate became even more palpable as he waged the Gulf War (1991).
Anderson explains the effect the political landscape has on her work: ‘I find my own reactions to this are driving me even further into the politics of pop culture. I want to know what the motor is, what is driving this country further and further to the right. Consequently much of my work has become political and engaged’.18 In 1994 Anderson wrote the song ‘Night in Baghdad’,19 an ironic comment on the bombing of Iraq and its coverage in the US media. The song is performed in front of a screen on which the words ‘Hello, California? Can you hear me?’ appear, followed by images of the war, while Anderson utters the lyrics as a mockery of CNN news broadcast: The performance of this song, strikingly relevant today in George W. Bush’s America and in the aftermath of the most recent invasion of Iraq, problematises and politicises the experience of space. Anderson speaks and sings from the other place – from the war zone – that normally reaches the audience through televised, mediated and somewhat sani- tised images of destruction not unlike in video games. This performance explore a similar time/space dynamic to the Del Vivo project – the event of the war is present in time but distant in space, which makes it confined within a different geographical framework and thus safely remote. Night in Baghdad (1994) and Del Vivo (1998) confront both the ironies and the possibilities of mediated reality, searching for meaning in the gaps between reality and its substitute. By placing together the imagery of bombing and destruction and the iconography of North American religious and state holidays, Anderson achieves a striking, disturbing and disorienting effect. Breaking through the automatized perception of the war filtered by mass media, Anderson displaces the common iconog- raphy of the American cultural landscape and transposes it into the war zone context, revealing the very place she inhabits as unstable and problematic.
In her book Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama, Una Chaudhuri introduces the term geopathology to describe modern dramas’ approach to place as problematic – as a site of betrayal:
Anderson’s work confronts ‘geopathology’ not only through critique and irony, but also by revealing the need to genuinely interact with place. The ‘talking-opera’ United States I–IV illustrates Anderson’s conception of space as heterotopic – where the ‘painful politics’ of place and poetics of placelessness coexist. She describes this project in
the following way: ‘When I began to write United States, I thought of it as a portrait of a country. Gradually I realised it was really a descrip- tion of any technological society and of people’s attempts to live in an electronic world’.23
United States I–IV, lasting over eight hours, is performed in four parts: Transportation, Politics, Money, and Love. The show combines the themes and ‘lingo’ of the American vernacular of the road and mass culture, using slide projectors, films, hi-tech apparatus of feedback loops, echo effects and devices that alter the performer’s voice.24 The performance is a meditation on the sorry state of the world represented through a dialogic collage of music, songs, and stories. It features ominous and ironic imagery, such as huge clocks ticking on screen (see Figure 2), blasting rockets, and the American flag tumbling in a clothes dryer.
The show begins as a meditation on travel, with a story about the discovery of America, which paraphrases the Biblical Flood legend, followed by the song ‘Born Again’. The backdrop – an enormous screen projection of wild animals – further ties into the metaphor of Noah’s Ark. This entire segment gives a sense of moving through a vast urban landscape as Anderson takes the audience on a virtual journey that involves the New Jersey Turnpike, a visit to Los Angeles and a crash landing at La Guardia airport. Throughout the show, matching the beat of hi-tech music and the rhythm of spoken language, Anderson plays with imagery related to travel and communication, such as open roads, New York City, radio dials, and answering machines. The cultural and political space is conveyed as an elusive fast changing landscape.
To destabilise the notion of place Anderson uses electronic means of altering the representation of space and body.25 She juxtaposes the three- dimensional human body on the stage to an enlarged two-dimensional slide projection of its image or shadow on the big screen. Screen projec- tions are also used to extend the stage space. A platform with a single step allows the performer to enter the ‘film space’ and become part of the two-dimensional image. The configuration of real and filmed space, live and recorded sound, live and projected images creates a constant tension between presence and absence. Live body and sound, and the real space interact with filmed imagery and recorded soundscape. In addition, Anderson creates a fake hologram in which she makes images of a room by rapidly waving her violin bow in the light-path of the slide projection. This also emphasises the position of the performer in the midst of the vast stage space; it symbolises the individual’s relationship to the ever-expending cultural landscape and an attempt to re-insert the notion of home.
The songs featured in this performance address the pathology of place and the sense of being lost. For instance, in her famous song ‘O Superman’ – Anderson’s ironic rendering of Massenet’s spiritual solo ‘O Sovereign’ from the opera Le Cid – answering machines provide the illusion of communication and popular culture replaces spirituality. Anderson performs this song merging in the corridor of light between the projector and the screen; she makes only simple gestures like raising her arm that becomes dramatically enlarged when projected on the backdrop behind her. The whole conversational tone of this song starting with a subdued laughter paced to the timing of amplified heart- beats has an unsettling effect. The song depicts America as ‘hyper- reality’ (Eco), where the substitute of the real becomes more palpable than reality itself.
Anderson has been able to capture through technology the profoundly heterotopic dimensions of hi-tech real and virtual spaces. She does not only diagnose the pitfalls of technological progress and pathology of place, but at the same time believes in technology as a means of re-establishing communication and re-inserting the sense of place. Anderson’s enlarged images and amplified sounds of her heart- beats could be read as gestures of reaching out.
This essay has explored ways in which Laurie Anderson’s musical theatre relates to the notion of space and cultural landscape tracing it through three decades. She has created a unique musical and stage language by toying with various elements and genres. Her music, which often involves visual elements, storytelling and technology, is well- known for defying conventions and for establishing its avant-garde qualities within a popular musical environment. Anderson’s work could be viewed as a cultural chronotope where, as Bakhtin (who coined the term) puts it, ‘Time thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history’.26 Anderson’s relationship to place has been a process of mapping out the signs of time. In the 1970s, Anderson, as other avant-garde artists, chose minimalism and low-tech performance devices to mark her territory outside the official cultural institutions. Technology was mainly the instrument of the establishment, while the artists explored more immediate and direct ways of communicating to the audience and interacting with the cultural landscape. In the 1980s and 1990s, it becomes evident that sophisticated electronic communica- tions and aggressive mass media define the last decades of the 20th century. The perception of the world as a technological wasteland, a ‘simulacrum’ (Baudrillard), and a ‘hyper-reality’ (Eco) has dominated avant-garde art and theatre, postmodern critical thought, and the schol- arship on Laurie Anderson.
For an artist, such as Anderson, to remain within the hermetic frame- work of the avant-garde scene would have meant to mark over and over again a space that has been already conquered and that in competition with the mass media culture had exhausted its appeal. New York’s famous SoHo district, where Anderson still lives, has undergone the transformation from a bohemian refuge to a very expensive and trendy neighborhood  Cultural landscape emerged as a political category that could be truly represented and confronted only by means as spectacular and far-reaching as that of modern mass media. Anderson has managed to criticize  probe, humor and deconstruct the mass media culture and corporate establishment while comfortably using their money and resources. Her performances, exploring the notion of space through technology, have emerged as hi-tech counter-sites – a new form of heterotopia(s) – to unmask the simulations in the extra-artistic reality.
Nevertheless, her most recent projects, including Happiness and the new album Life on a String, a minimalist autobiographical work with melancholic overtones, turn away from complicated hi-tech gadgets and devices. The symbiosis between avant-garde musical performance and technology seems to have lost its appeal for Anderson. Her recent performance Happiness (2002) is mainly a storytelling event and a low- tech journey through various places from the Egyptian mummification rituals to New York City after September 11 (see Figure 3). Anderson particularly talks about how the terrorist attacks changed her neigh- bourhood, but also makes cynical observations in regards to George W. Bush’s politics. While in her previous hi-tech performances sounds and images compete on stage, in this show Anderson reduces visual effects and focuses on sounds as means of ‘seeing’ familiar images in a new way. She uses only two of her many hi-tech instruments: the mouth light and sunglasses with impulse sensors that make audible her facial movements and her gestures. This device suggests the idea of seeing through sound and Anderson employs it to react to the reality overloaded by mediated images of events. Images are the main means of the contemporary mass media spectacles that perhaps most strongly define and influence our perception of reality. Anderson invites us to ‘displace’ our senses producing the effect of seeing through sound and of hearing the image. In other words, she destabilises the customary roles of image and sound in mass culture and in our consciousness. By turning to minimalism, Anderson unmasks the hi-tech spectacle of reality; her approach is close to the technique of the film director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who in the omnibus 11’09’01 (2002) separates sounds and images using the well-known documentary footage of the terrorist attacks. Likewise, in her new work, Anderson displays the need to relate to reality in radically different ways from that of mass media spectacles and televised broad- casts.
Moreover since Anderson’s hi-tech performances in the 1980s and 1990s many have explored the dynamics between real and simulated as a dominant quality of the contemporary cultural landscape. This issue has even served as a material for recent Hollywood movies, from the technological fantasises such as Matrix (1999) and its sequel, Matrix Reloaded (2003), to political satires like Wag the Dog (1997), which focuses on a simulated war for political gain, and Truman Show (1998) that prefigured, perhaps even inspired, the new and enormously popular form of entertainment – the reality TV shows. Anderson explores the relationship between simulation and reality in more complex ways than the mainstream culture and entertainment. Even though her work involves cultural critique, political satire and parody, simulation comes across in Anderson’s performances not only as a postmodern condition or as pathology of the mediated reality, but also as an authentic expres- sion in a highly technological world. In a cultural climate where mass- culture embodies Baudrillard’s notion of simulacrum in mostly banal ways and uses Pirandello’s performative interplay between illusion and reality to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Laurie Anderson’s return to minimalism seems to be a brave solution in establishing new ways of interacting with place. Her new work continues to read as a search for cracks between simulation and authentic being, as a quest for place wherein to reinsert both a new meaning and a critique of that meaning.

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