Laurie Anderson, who has been making amazing, cutting edge work since before you could say the word “paintbrush,” has just opened the 2010 BAM Next Wave festival with her new piece – Delusion . It’s a multimedia performance about memory, identity and longing that incorporates everything from music to projections to video to animation and more (and yes, you need to go see it).
An artistic legend, Anderson is the only person ever named artist-in-residence for NASA and also happens to be married to Lou Reed. Free Williamsburg was lucky enough to get the chance to discuss her new piece, the importance of trusting yourself, and why all you kids living in Bushwick should stop worrying so much about paying your rent.
Delusion is at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St) Sep 21—25, Sep 28—30, Oct 1 &2 at 7:30pm, and Sep 26 &Oct 3 at 3pm. Tickets start at $20
Free Williamsburg: I understand you first performed this piece at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and have been touring around the UK and Sweden. Are you glad to be back in New York?
Laurie Anderson: Oh sure, yeah, it’s my home. And the audiences here are really great because they get it, in a way that people really really don’t in other places.
FW: Tell me about your new piece at BAM, Delusion.
Anderson: Delusion started out as a play for two people. I was going to make it these situations where there would be two sides to every story, and each side would be really true and compelling, but the opposite of the other one. Because so much in life, or books or movies or everything, we think it has to resolve. And it doesn’t resolve that easily. Life is complicated.
So I’m trying to represent that there’s a lot of conflict that is not easily resolvable. And that is fine. It doesn’t have to boil down to one little maxim.
It’s 20 short stories, with a lot of pictures and music. I’m playing with some incredible musicians. Colin Stetson, a really great horn player who’s going to be opening for Arcade Fire, and then another great incredible player Eyvind Kang on viola.
FW: Are there any delusions you think we particularly hold on to?
Anderson: My piece doesn’t address this directly, but probably the biggest delusion is that people think dying will happen to other people but never to them. It’s probably one of the most amazing things that makes you human. That you can actually live with that delusion, you know?
FW: What do you hope people come away with from your piece?
Anderson: There is lots of funny stuff in Delusion, but at the bottom of it it’s kind of sad. You know I didn’t even realize that until I did it for audiences and they were crying.
Here’s the thing. I’m not out to depress people, but you know, some things are just sad, that’s all they are. I’m trying to teach myself that you can feel sad without being sad. If you’re trying to protect yourself from feeling sad, you’re going to get really messed up. Because there are sad things in the world. Period. And you know I guess I feel the same thing about happiness. I love to feel happy, but I don’t want to be a happy person, because then that becomes a personality trait that I don’t want to have.
FW: You’ve been involved in the NYC art scene and living here since the 70s. How has it changed, and is it better or worse?
Anderson: It was this very sort weird and pure scene in the 70s, when people were making music and art and sculpture and dance, because really you had zero connection to anything commercial. So people were doing it because they wanted to do it, there was no way that you could make a living from it.
It was also a very different city, really dangerous, and really dark. There was a lot of crime, and it was really, really filthy. The whole city was broke and was falling apart. On the surface, now, it seems like Minneapolis or something — you know so organized and pretty and parks and all of that. I don’t know what we did with all those homeless people, but they went somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I like the parks and I like that it’s safer, but now New York is a kind of suburban place in a certain way.
FW: What do you think of Williamsburg?
Anderson: I think it’s a pretty cool thing. I mean I’m kind of amazed that so many people are doing paintings again. I love it, I just love paintings, but I thought we were going in a whole other realm of doing stuff on the web or whatever, not just sitting around and making paintings, like the 1950s or something. But, there are some good paintings!
Every time you say something about New York, and you think you’ve got it all figured out and you think you understand it, along comes a painter that goes “Hey, check out my paintings!”
FW: You’ve produced an amazing amount of work. What keeps you going?
Anderson: I don’t mean to sound shallow, but it’s the best way to have fun, you know? For me it’s just sort of goofing around. It really is – it’s like “Oh I think I’ll make a cartoon today. No, I think I’ll make a song.”
You know, so when you call yourself this amorphous mutlimedia artist thing, you just do whatever you feel like and people go “oh that’s your work, ok fine,” and that’s how it is.
FW: One last question. As someone who’s been incredibly successful with their work, do you have any advice for those of us living here, holding down three jobs just to pay the rent and trying to find the time to make art?
Anderson: You know when I started being an artist I had this friend who said really irritating things to me. I would say “Look Richie, you don’t understand. I really wanna do my work, but, I’ve gotta pay my rent.
And he would just kept saying “Just do your work.”
And I’d say “No no, Richie, come on, it’s just not practical, I mean I have my rent is due in like a week, I have to be practical.”
And he would just keep saying “Do your work.”
And it made me so mad, but I finally realized what he was saying. He was talking about priorities. What do you really want? What do you put first? If you do your work, and you put all of your best energy into that, everything else will fall into place. And, you know, if you make paying your rent your very first priority, well then it will be harder to do your work. If you want this amazing apartment that looks like an artists loft or whatever, you’ll get that, but you might not be able to do any work because you’ll be putting all your energy into getting that place.
I found that at times very hard to take, but it’s really true. Because you know, it’s trusting yourself. That you have something good to say, and that it’s worth saying. That’s what you have to do as an artist. Nobody else’s really going to do it, everything comes from you.