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Performance Artist Laurie Anderson on War, Art and Her Latest Work, "Homeland"

StoryJuly 23, 2008
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Laurie Anderson

performance artist.


We bring you a conversation with performance artist Laurie Anderson. Her highly unusual style has made her a well-known figure in the world of avant-garde and experimental art since the 1970s. Her latest performance is called "Homeland," held at the Lincoln Center in New York City this week. We speak with Laurie Anderson about "Homeland," her role as an artist and why she says she "lost [her] country" following the invasion of Iraq. [includes rush transcript]


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today with performance artist Laurie Anderson. Her highly unusual style has made her a well-known figure in the world of avant-garde and experimental art since the ’70s. She has worked closely with leading artists and writers like Allen Ginsburg, Philip Glass, Frank Zappa, and her husband Lou Reed.

Laurie Anderson was the first — and, well, so far, only — artist in residence at NASA. Last year, she won the Gish Prize for “outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”

Her latest performance is called “Homeland,” at Lincoln Center through this week. I sat down with Laurie Anderson and asked her why she called her performance piece “Homeland.”

    LAURIE ANDERSON: Calling it that was, of course, a — it’s a fuzzy word that Americans don’t use. You know, it’s kind of — sounds a little like “fatherland” or sounds kind of German, you know. So, pairing it with a bureaucratic word, it rhymes with, of course, “security” in — to the American ear. You don’t just say “homeland.” The next word is “security.”

    So, I really wanted to write about some of the things that have been happening recently. But it is — it’s, I would call it, like one-third politics, one-third kind of like strange dreams, one-third pure music, so — because I don’t — I’m not sure that, you know, music is a great way to do politics, you know? On the other hand, just so many — so much media is now about pure entertainment that I thought since journalists are doing entertainment, entertainers can do a little journalism. Why not? You know, so — but it is worrying to me how much information has to do with box office.

    So I just tried to, in any case, have a look at how stories have — and storytelling have changed people’s minds. And that’s the crossover between my work and, let’s say, current politics, is, how do you tell a story? What are these stories these candidates are talking about? You know, what’s this story about a war that will last a hundred years? Why are you telling that story? You know, why are you smiling when you’re telling it? You know, so the stories that candidates choose to describe the future or the past or that you choose to describe what’s going on are our stories, their — they’re just — they’re words stacked around, you know, and their relationship to the truth is always changing. So that’s what I’m kind of trying to look at in this. I didn’t actually start out writing something like this, but I’m an observer, and, as I said, stories are my medium. And that’s what’s going on now, my story, so that it comes into my work.

    It’s also, I have to say, about place. That’s the name of the thing. And my actual inspiration for "Homeland" was when I was working in Japan, and I was working on a film for Expo. And it was a really big film that had like little — like it was visual fables, and it had little stories in it. And one of the stories was about losing things. And it was a story — well, I lost something, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was, you know, this feeling of, you know, when you’re like, “Did I lose my keys? Did I lose my notebook? You know, my phone? My husband?” You know, you have this like weird feeling that you lost something. So I was talking to the translator, and she said, “Well, now, what did you lose?” And I said, “It’s not what I lost, it’s the feeling of losing things, not the things themselves.” And she’s saying — and she said, “When did you lose it?” And I’m like, I’m being psychoanalyzed by the translator, thank you very much, you know. “OK,” I said, “I’ll try to answer your question. When did I lose it?” And I realized that I wrote that thing about losing something, not being able to — when we were invading Iraq. And what I had lost was my country.

AMY GOODMAN: Performance artist Laurie Anderson. She’s performing “Homeland” this week at Lincoln Center. We recently filmed her in Brooklyn.

    LAURIE ANDERSON: Now, sometimes experts look for weapons. And sometimes they look everywhere for weapons. And sometimes when they don’t find any weapons, sometimes other experts say, “If you haven’t found any weapons, it doesn’t mean there are no weapons.” And other experts looking for weapons find things, like cleaning fluids and refrigerator rods and small magnets, and they say, “These may look like common objects to you, but to us they could be weapons, or they could be used to make weapons or to ship weapons or to store weapons, because only an expert can see they might be weapons, and only an expert can deal with weapons, ’cause only an expert can deal with the problem, and only an expert can deal with the problem that only an expert can deal with the problem.”

    Now, sometimes, if it’s really, really, really, really hot, and it’s still July in January, and there’s no more snow, and huge waves are wiping out cities, and the hurricanes are everywhere, and everyone knows it’s a problem, but if some of the experts say it’s no problem and other experts claim it’s no problem or explain why it’s no problem, then it’s simply not a problem. But when an expert says it’s a problem...

AMY GOODMAN: Laurie Anderson, she’s performing at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center all this week here in New York.

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