Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thoughts from Laurie Anderson

Yesterday I went to see Laurie Anderson, performance artist extraordinaire, at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was part of the "Mavericks" series, talks with people having leading influences in the film world. Originally the series was for industry insiders only, but this year they opened the series up to the public. A description of the session is here.

We were first shown a short film called Hidden Inside Mountains that was produced for the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan. It was originally shown on a five-foot story screen (or wall?) outside the "FrancReich" Pavilion (French/German pavilion) in a continuous loop. It showed various little clips or, as she called them, "stories" that didn't have a connecting narrative but which were quite lovely. With bits of text in Japanese and English, I thought of them as visual haiku.

After the viewing, she was then interviewed and finally there were questions from the audience. Laurie Anderson talked about the film, both what it was meant to do, and the intended audience, the challenges of a New Yorker creating something for a Japanese audience, challenges in translating phrases from English to Japanese since our concepts are very different, her work generally, her career, and then some more global viewpoints.

Some of the discussion that stuck with me:

  • she uses technology extensively, but believes we do not need "the latest version" or the "newest tool" to do good work. And just because we have these tools doesn't mean the final product is going to be good either. So many of us are held back because we think we need "the latest upgrade" and we wait for that to innovate;

  • anyone can create a big spectacle that just needs the push of a button. Just because we can doesn't mean we should. There are too many big spectacles now, so their meaning is becoming lost;

  • she is artist-in-residence for NASA. They thought she would be creating some big spectacle such as lighting up an image on the moon or some such thing. Instead she proposed to write a long poem....

  • there are ways to work around the system, around the commercially acceptable ways to do things. It is up to us to find those ways. We don't always have to buy into commercialism;

  • she is interested in understanding what "lures me into the future," what "tempts me" to reach her goals. In the case of using a reward system, being a donkey with a carrot on a stick, she found at one point that her "donkey died". In other words, she is not goal-oriented. She explores ideas and goes from one project to another, but doesn't have a set goal or plan for her own career. I love that idea or image of being "lured into the future". Even more challenging is how to lure others into the future where change exists? This particular idea got me thinking...

  • as an artist she is not attracted to the mainstream, but instead likes to explore what is at the fringe of society, the fringe of our culture.

All very interesting. I only wish they had shown the short film again at the end so we could use some of what we learned from her interview to better appreciate the film. If you get a chance, I encourage you to see one of her performances. She is always interesting, thought-provoking, and oft times quite funny.

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