When I started trying to promote my own artwork online I kept coming across other people's art that amazed or compelled me in one way or another. This blog has been a way for me to practice thinking and writing about art, as well as learning more about my peers and all the incredible art that is being made out there.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Laurie Anderson

Although I usually focus on visual artists still trying to promote their own work I have on occasion posted more successful folk. So when an email came my way about Laurie Anderson's show "49 Days in the Bardo" at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia which included a number of large drawings, AND an invitation to interview Ms. Anderson, I could hardly say no. First, here's some of the work.

"Lola in the Night Sky" light through punched holes in aluminum  8' x 14'  (photo: Lou Reed)

from the series "Lola in the Bardo" charcoal on paper 10'4" x  14'4"  (photo: Carlos Avendano)

from the series "Lola in the Bardo" charcoal on paper 10'4" x  14'4"  (photo: Carlos Avendano)

"Lola in the Bardo" insallation view (photo: Carlos Avendano)

The premise behind the show is this:

"In The Tibetan Book of the Dead, also known as The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo, the bardo is described as the forty-nine day period between death and rebirth. The book is a detailed description of the way the mind dissolves and what the spirit experiences in this transition. In April 2011, Lolabelle, my small rat terrier died after a long illness. For twelve years she had been my constant and faithful companion. Counting the forty-nine days from Lolabelle’s death I realized according to The Tibetan Book of the Dead Lolabelle would be reborn on June 5, my birthday."
-Laurie Anderson

The show which runs through November 19 if you happen to be in the Philly area, is a multi-media body of work including texts, drawings, sculpture, projections and sound. I'm mostly concerned here with the drawings. You can see some images from other aspects of the show at www.sneakattackmedia.com. The main thing to keep in mind here is the scale. These are enormous drawings. Big isn't always better by any means, but it is important to keep in mind when trying to gauge the effect the originals might have on the viewer. And now, here's my first interview with anyone ever. In it's entirety. I only edited out the ums and aws and paraphrased slightly here and there for clarity:

Me - I was aware of your music and performance and installations but not of your drawing. Have you always done drawings?

LA - Yes, I have always done drawings. When I was in art school I was a painter. Then I did sculpture. So I've always done [visual art].

Me - A lot of artists may get some success in one area, whether it's acting or music, then try out other forms of creative expression. Often not particularly successfully, but you seem to cross genre's pretty easily. Why do you think that is?

LA - I spent my whole childhood making little books, doing little puppet shows, doing music, painting, and nobody ever said, hey, what are you going to be? Nobody ever asked that question, so I never answered it. Fortunately I found a good catchall thing which was "Multimedia artist". I don't feel like I have to stay in the right bin. Sometimes I think those bins are made for economic reasons more than any other ones. My chops in music and [in other areas] aren't great, but I'm not a chops person. I just like to express different things in different media. I'm not intimidated by the fact that I don't have those kind of chops. A friend of mine recently said "I realized I'm not part of the art world, I'm part of the art market". That was really chilling to me and that explains at least part of the reason why you're assigned a bin. The art police come along and say "Get back in your bin!". being an artist is supposed to be about being free. But sometimes when you step out of your so-called genre, you're told not to do that, and you realize this is not such a free place either. So I try to do that, if I feel like it. It's not really to prove anything. I started making paintings last summer because I was really kind of depressed. A friend who's a painter said to me, "here's some brushes, here's some canvas. go and make a painting." I said no, I hate painting. he said "Go - and - make - a - painting!" So I said "Alright" and I did and I couldn't stop. Now I have to say that I have a certain amount of disdain for art as therapy. If you don't feel good get a shrink or talk to your friends, don't take it out on your art. But I have to say after doing those big paintings I felt a lot better, so what do I know?

Me - You mentioned the size. These are really big drawings. how important is the scale of the work?

LA - Really crucial. Really really crucial. For me it was the closest I've come to playing the violin, to improvising. It was the gestural bowing that's all over the place in those drawings. You see this circular motion, and I thought what are all these weird shapes that are like spinning tops? And then I realized they were just... like the way the bow is expressed in motion.  I learned a lot by looking at it intuitively. I'm used to working more on a level where you have to explain things. So it was a big relief to make what seemed more like an abstract piece of music.

Me - Of course most of the people who see these images online will never see the originals. How much value do you think there is in seeing small electronic images? How much is lost?

LA - A lot. For me as an artist working in theater, scale is everything. you can't put a little quicktime movie on youtube and expect it to have the punch as it does in a theater when it's a giant 70mm movie. None of these things work little ...the scale of these is important. You stand in front of them and you're informed by that.

Me - Do you think that having such a large show dealing with issues of love, loss and death is in any way trivialized by it being about a pet? (I'm not sure why I felt compelled to ask this)

LA - I think that unless you really have loved an animal in that way it may seem idiotic. When some of my friends said , oh I hear your dog died... but they couldn't even be bothered to give their condolences... they were like, get over it. I had a cat that died... what's the big deal?" One of the things about being with an animal is that opens you to another way of being in the world. It's an amazing way to see things. Also, when they say things like that and I'm standing there (my dog has died and I really miss her, it's very physical, and it was a pure and great relationship that we had, and also lot's of fun...) I'm thinking, I would a hundred times rather be spending this evening with my dog than talking to you. A lot of what counts for human companionship is just... competitive comparing of careers or trying to keeping up with your email. As a kid we had a lot of animals but I never really got to know a dog like that before. So I don't think it's trivializing anything to talk about loving an animal. For a lot of people it is ridiculous, I do realize that. They just think, oh my god that's so pathetic. But I really hope they get a chance to fall in love with an animal, because it's great. I probably felt the same way when people talked about their dogs... until I got a dog. So it's really better to just talk to other people who like dogs.

....that's the whole thing right there.
you can also check out Laurie's Website: 
and her facebook page: fb.com/laurieanderson

1 comment:

  1. I know why you asked the question about trivialized grieving for an animal, David. So I could consider some artistic expression and give myself permission to work more creatively with my feelings over losing Saturday. Great interview and insightful on many levels. Thank you.