by Vanessa Ullman
Photography courtesy of Boston University College of Fine Arts
Artist. Writer. Film Director. Composer. These are all titles held by Laurie Anderson, whose newest work, All the Things I Lost in the Flood, was showcased at CFA’s Visiting Artist Series at the Tsai Performance Center on February 7th as a part of the College of Fine Arts Contemporary Perspectives Lectures Series. This series brings in new artists every month or so.
Ms. Anderson did not choose to focus on one medium. Instead, she interwove a variety in a manner that highlighted her versatility as an artist, speaker and performer. Once Anderson began speaking into her microphone, the audience was entranced by her eloquent speech, her comedic timing and her unique spirit.
She started with announcing the release of her new novel, All the Things I Lost in the Flood, which became available in stores this week. The title refers to Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast in 2012, the same year Anderson started writing her novel. The book is a combination of text, photographs and codes, but Anderson emphasized one idea in particular. Stories are the essential part of her novel, as it spans several years that were both significant to and challenging for her.
Her lecture might have seemed sporadic on the surface, but each story flowed effortlessly into the next. As this lecture was the first she had given on her latest book, Anderson relayed to the audience that she was not exactly sure which parts she would have time to cover. Despite this, the stories she told were fascinating, whether she had attempted to make an opera of Moby Dick, or created a virtual reality with a world of words.
“How political should art really be?” she said mid-lecture. Anderson’s take on the U.S. political situation that she felt faltered in recent years was addressed subtly throughout the lecture, in a way that only an artist could achieve.
She started with the story of not what she did, but what Yoko Ono had done, the day after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. With the flick of a switch, Anderson went from lecturer to storyteller, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats as she spoke of Ono’s one minute of screaming in response to the election results.
The next minute, she asked the audience to join her in a slightly shorter scream of 15 seconds. Without hesitation, everyone screamed. It was truly a bizarre moment, a moment of cohesion and something only Anderson could have accomplished.
Her political commentary continued as she explained the story behind several of her art installations. She spoke of the trials and tribulations of her ambitious installation that brought the live stream projection of a prisoner into a church in Austria. Although this specific version did not appeal to the audience successfully, variations of this concept of liberating the confined were popular at museums in Milan and New York.
The mere concept of these projects was astounding—a theme congruent with Anderson’s illustrious portfolio. She touched on her experience creating the 2004 Opening Ceremony for the Olympics in Athens, and beautifully shifted into discussing the influence of her late husband on her novel.
It is hard to encompass all of Anderson’s talents in a 90-minute lecture. She briefly touched on her hit song of the 1990s, “O Superman,” a dramatic storytelling of how she was on a plane that almost crashed, her influential work with digital voices and a number of other irreplaceable, life-defining experiences.
Yet despite their dissimilarities, Anderson was able to connect each to the other through stories. Her talent shone brightly through a staggering number of mediums, even while she carried herself in a modest and unpretentious manner.
So, “how political should art really be?” Anderson might not have given the audience an answer, but through her boundary pushing works, art that sparks a conversation is art that can tell a really good story.