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Laurie Anderson

by Roselee Goldberg

ISBN 0500019932 / 9780500019931 / 0-500-01993-2
Publisher Thames & Hudson
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

As a major figure rising out of the downtown New art scene of the 1970s, Laurie Anderson has straddled aural and visual art with equal genius to unfold the stories embedded in the effects of media on American cultural and political life as well as on the everyday. Now in her fourth decade of artistic production, Anderson is at last the subject of an impressive book by Roselee Goldberg that exemplifies both the value and problems inherent in textual containment of a live form.

The ephemeral and unrepeatable ontology of performance provokes vexed and hotly contested questions around its documentation. Roselee Goldberg's superbly produced eponymous book should be exhibit A in the case for the defence. The documentation of performance involves freezing its flow, rendering it into a series of static artifacts like costumes and photographs strangely cut off from their life. Goldberg makes a valiant and wholly commendable attempt to make the best of what can always only be the curation of the traces of art, rather than art itself in several ways.

First, she organises Anderson's output historically to allow readers to understand it in the context of the development of themes, theatrical techniques, and the evolution of technology Anderson employs so idiosyncratically. Second, with remarkable access to those traces of performance, she includes textual excerpts and songs, Anderson's own designs for body instruments such as the audio glasses she used to amplify the sounds of her own body, as well as sketches for stage sets, and chunks of interviews with the artist. Goldberg also takes time to describe the performance, which--although fraught with the difficulty of translating one medium into another--is too often ignored by archivists and academics. Finally, Goldberg clearly and usefully interprets Anderson's work in the context of aesthetics, society, technology, and culture.

Anderson's work has always been about communication, she floats images before her audience, while streams of words anchor them to strangely traditional forms of story-telling about animals, home, dreams, families, and angels. Both traditional and high-technology becomes hand-drawn, exceeding its function and finding new ones through theatre: the Tape Bow Violin or the Violinograph, for instance. While not working with found-objects, Anderson finds the theatricality of each media, each object, and each story she uses. Ultimately, the effect is only partially successfully conveyed, even in a book as useful as Goldberg's. But as a coffee table book for the avant-garde set, Laurie Anderson sets a high standard for performance books to follow. --Fiona Buckland [via]