Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Laurie Anderson and Contemporary Art

I watched this video of Laurie Anderson commenting on the national anthem a few weeks ago, and couldn't stop thinking about it for a while. I discovered Anderson as a teenager when me and my boyfriend at the time ransacked his born-again Christian mother's music collection. I discovered many a wondrous thing, including the album, "Big Science," which was both laughable in its absurdity and compelling in its visionary usage of synthesizers.

My artist/philosopher friend Dr. Amy showed me a series of Anderson PSA's, including the following about the National Anthem:

The doctor says:

My thought was that she was making a statement about the tendency in contemporary art to be nonsensical, yet to present itself as being extremely relevant. Oftentimes, you find yourself searching for meaning, and there is not much there (just like: it is dawn, I think I see a fire; a feather in his hat, called it macaroni--it would not be out of the realm of possibilities for someone to present such things as art these days--anything goes (which is good and bad). I took it as a criticism, but Allan thought that she was making an allusion to the cryptic nature of contemporary art. I'm not sure I get what he is saying.

I think she is right, but also side with her friend Allan in that there is something cryptic in the nature of these songs. "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Yankee Doodle" were used as vehicles to promote American patriotism and national unity, therefore they have inherently taken on political tendencies. And what they present to the listener could be interpreted as light-hearted, eccentric works of whimsy, but the fact remains that they serve as an impetus for national unity and, in turn, identity. And since by definition they are political, it could be inferred that they are nothing more than political satire under a guise modern Americans are not accustomed to. To me there are definite sinister undertones. And so, from what I got from Anderson's commentary, the artist perhaps senses or can see evidence of something brewing beneath the surface in contemporary art. Or who knows, maybe those songs just piss her off.

1 comment:

Sean Wraight said...

(O Aaaaami ty eeee) you just made my day! Laurie Anderson is and always will be one of my favourite human beings. I really have to side with your interpretation of her take on the national anthem too. Those bright eyes and eloquently detached reading style allow us to hear familiar things in a whole new perspective. But further, I have always considered her to be an almost avant garde version of Jerry Seinfeld albeit with far messier hair. Like him, she breaks down the most basic of assumptions to find cryptic meaning, irony and humour. Her revelations most clever and so often prescient. She is an artistic jewel.

Excellent post.