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May 15, 1984 - Image 10

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1984-05-15

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v

Page 10 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, May 15, 1984
Anderson breathes life into art

By Byron L. Bull
LAURIE ANDERSON, who will be
performing at the Michigan
Theater tomorrow night at 8:00 and
10:30 is unquestionably the leader in the
field of performance art - an art form
still so relatively young its framework
has yet to be fully laid. Anderson, an in-
telligent, articulate 37-year-old former
sculptor appears to be its chief ar-
chitect.
Since her first performances 12 years
ago, Anderson has built a solidly im-
pressive critical and public following
both here and abroad.
Performance art, though in its infan-
cy, can trace its roots back to the
beginning of this century. Its lines to
Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism
are clearly evident. Rejecting static
works, performance artists seek to
directly communicate to their audience
by making their viewing a part of the
work. The mood of an audience, and
their reaction to the artist's actions, are
as inseparable from the form as paint is
from the canvas of a finished painting.
One of the forms' strongest appeals is
that although the artist may repeat the
mechanics of the process elsewhere,

each performance is a unique transient
work existing solely at the moment it
unfolds before its viewers.
Anderson's current work is a large
scale, multi-media mosaic of films,
slides, songs and special effects
with Anderson as narrator /
musician / singer. The music
is a quite arresting blend of pop and
avant garde elements, with whimsical,
stream-of-consciousness lyrics full of
seeming non-sequitors and often
ingenius wordplay.
Anderson owes some debt to the Pop
Art movement, and also to the undistin-
ctive, yet overly maligned art-rock
movement of the mid-'70s. In fact one
would only have to look as far as Peter
Gabriel, whose progressive music and
theatrically staged concerts both with
and after Genesis directly preceeded
Anderson's approach.
The culmination of Anderson's work
to date, her breakthrough work, was
her 1982 magnum opus The United
States. An epic, four-part, six-hour
theatrical production that ambitiously
tried to grasp and illuminate a large
chunk of what makes for the American
experience.
Anderson broke up the program into
four separate themes: transportation,
politics, money, and - the one theme
recurrent through most of her work -
love. Audacious in its scope to the point
of nearly being foolhardy, boldly
designed and executed with all the flair
of a modern day P.T. Barnum, it gar-
nered heavy critical acclaim, and fir-
mly uprooted Anderson from the New
York underground scene.
Warner Bros. subsequently released
an album of songs culled from the show,
Big Science, which generated con-
siderable interest in the music world.
But despite its success, it remains a
sparse, and times cold work, clever, but
incomplete. Without the visuals to ac-
company it, it seemed to be a work half-
finished.
The recent release of Mister Hear-
tbreak shows a much finer tuned, con-

vincingly fleshed out work. The master-
ful use of overdubs, tape loops, and par-
ticularly a newly acquired Synclavier
synth/computer, indicate someone who
has in complete control of her medium.
Anderson refers to herself as essen-
tially a storyteller. Her songs are like
highly exaggerated bedtime stories,
with wonderfully absurd twist to them.
A certain detectable sense of whimsy
lingers in her voice. Like an adult who
has an audience of children completely
enchanted around the campfire with
some tall tale.
Her tales are often supremely surreal
skits, told with tongue wandering in and
out of cheek. "Sharkey's Day" for in-
stance, harbors a Bradburyian forest of
mechanical trees that grow to maturity
then promptly cut themselves down.
Other pieces possess a subdued,
haunting flavor of loss and isolation
such as her retelling of the Adam and
Eve myth in "Langue d' Amour," or
her darkly desolate stylistic homage to
Pynchon, "Gravity's Angel."
Two songs from her first album,
"0 Superman" and "Big Science" are
filled with an acidic cynicism, against
rampant industrial/political fervor.
Yet Anderson is anything but anti-
technology. She seems, in fact, to find it
amusing, playful, even sexy. Consider
the romanticism of "LetX=X" in which
Anderson sees the future as a better
place that already exists, we just have
to get up and walk over to it. At one
point she gazes dreamily into the sky
and sighs, You know. It could be you
/ It's a clear blue sky/ The satellites
are out tonight/Let X = X . "
There are those who will find Ander-
son's work frustratingly inaccessible.
They will look for straight forward
messages, expect her to follow up on
the often suddenly provocative direc-
tions she takes to, then just as quickly
abandons. I suspect they will find the
continuous word play and randomly
scattered imagery nonsensical. They
will call her hopelessly oblique and
pretentious. Worse, the self-satisfied

Anderson
... shows her darker side
sparkle in her voice and in her eyes will
likely infuriate them, and dismiss her
They miss the point that Anderson's
writing distinctly avoids concreteness.
Anderson swirls and churns her senten-
ces the way Bruno Bozzeto continually
twist the characters in his animated
shorts. The idea is not to ponder every
frame, but to relax and enjoy the fluid,
kaleidoscopic effect for the sheer
beauty of it.
One final note. Anderson's lines are
designed to trigger off randoh, wild
associations in the minds of the audien-
ce. The degree to which they extend
depends on the receptiveness of the
listener. Like a few flowing sparks
falling to a forest floor, the more forest
there is to burn, the more blazing the
conflagration.

0
0

Laurie
...in a lighter mood

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