Laurie Anderson – Artist, Woman, New Yorker

An introduction by Marnie Karmelita, Creative Director

There is something about Laurie Anderson that crosses all forms and boundaries – between the conscious and unconscious, human and non-human, light and dark, ethereal and enigmatic. There is something about her that is not of this world. Her voice is a beacon, her curiosity is infinite, her artistry is unparalleled.

When we were thinking about artists we wished to invite to take on the new roles of Guest Curator and help shape the programme for the New Zealand Festival of the Arts, she immediately sprang to mind. Laurie performed in the very first Festival in 1986 so it was only fitting that she also be among the first of our Guest Curators as the Festival boldly shifts to incorporate more voices and ideas.

Her boundless approach to art and life is the ideal foundation for the process of curation but Laurie prefers to think of herself as artist in residence. The opportunity to embed herself in a place for more than just one performance evening is a reflection of her constant and ongoing investigation into the world.

Alongside her far-reaching and multifaceted artistic endeavours, throughout it all was her partner in art and love, the legendary Lou Reed, frontman of The Velvet Underground. Tangling hearts and minds over 21 years, their artistic partnership is also clearly felt in the series of events Laurie has crafted for the Festival.

It has been a dream and a privilege for us to work with Laurie as she imagined her series of events for our 2020 programme and our audiences here in New Zealand. She has developed a series that reflects her current investigations, curiosities and practice allowing us to get close and experience the art that inspires her.

What can’t be said of Laurie? We sat down with her on two occasions for a video interview and follow up chat to get some insight into the thinking behind some of the events she is bringing to New Zealand in 2020. Be sure to also take a close look at her extended biography below. We tried to encapsulate her significant contribution to the cultural zeitgeist in just a few words, but it was impossible. Introducing, Laurie Anderson…


Can you tell us about Here Comes the Ocean? 

Both Lou [Reed] and I wrote a lot about the ocean. Not just the physical ocean but also metaphorical ocean and the things it represents. I wanted to make something that featured the drone feedback from Lou’s guitars, which provide the big wave musicians are all surfing on. It will be both improv work and songs we both wrote and will feature my string quartet who are just extraordinary, and we’re collaborating with musicians from New Zealand as well so it will be an amazing evening.   

You’re using Lou Reed’s guitars in Here Comes the Ocean, how will they be used in the installation piece Lou Reed Drones? 

This will be an installation of Lou’s guitars leaning against amplifiers to create these amazing feedback loops. Lou was working with these from the 70s all the way through the rest of his life. They’re a very intense and very volatile sound and a deeply beautiful one.  

When Lou died, we created an installation of them just to hear his instruments and what happened was people came to the installation and they would sink to the floor and become weirdly defenseless. Other people brought instruments and it became a weird jam session. We didn’t plan that; it was created by other people and it was intensely interesting that it became that. 

I hope because the installation is there for a while that people will come back and interact with them in different ways. They might bring an instrument or do tai chi or ballet or write a novel in there. 

Tell us about the virtual reality experience you’re presenting that will take audiences on a journey through space. 

To the Moon was commissioned by Louisiana Museum in Denmark for a big exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon. Initially, we had a lot of stories in the piece but because virtual reality is an experiential thing, almost all the words got cut out and it’s a very visual experience. I'm an artist for one reason: it's to be free, and VR does that for you with your body.  

You came to New Zealand for the first-ever New Zealand Festival of the Arts. What are you looking forward to most in returning as a Guest Curator and artist-in-residence? 

I’m hoping that I’m presenting people with a lot of variety. I’m not coming to present three works with a string quartet; I’m bringing wildly different stuff and I’m very enthusiastic about the variety. I want people to respond intuitively to the works. The less they know about them, the better because the more they experience for themselves in their own way. I respect people’s imaginations and I want them to get excited in their own way. 

As Guest Curator, Laurie Anderson’s signature selections are comprised of six events for the 2020 New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Her full programme will be announced November 7 with tickets on sale. 

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Laurie Anderson – An Abridged Biography 

Laurie Anderson is one of America’s most renowned – and daring – creative pioneers. Known primarily for her multimedia presentations, she has cast herself in roles as varied as visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, electronics whiz, vocalist and instrumentalist. Initially trained in violin and sculpting, Laurie pursued a variety of performance art projects in New York during the 1970s, focusing particularly on language, technology and visual imagery. She became more widely known outside the art world when her single ‘O Superman’ reached number two on the UK singles chart in 1981. 

Laurie has toured the United States and internationally numerous times with shows ranging from simple spoken word performances to elaborate multimedia events. She has published six books and has written the entry for New York for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Her visual work has been presented in major museums throughout the United States and Europe. 

As a composer, Laurie has contributed music to films by Wim Wenders and Jonathan Demme; dance pieces by Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown, and a score for Robert Lepage’s theatre production, The Far Side of the Moon. In 1997 she curated the two-week Meltdown Festival at Royal Festival Hall in London and she was Guest Director of Brighton Festival in 2016. 

Recognised worldwide as a ground-breaking leader in the use of technology in the arts, Laurie is a pioneer in electronic music and has invented several devices that she has used in her recordings and performance art shows. In 2002, Laurie was appointed the first and only artist-in-residence of NASA, which culminated in her 2004 touring solo performance The End of the Moon. 

Laurie’s film Heart of a Dog was chosen as an official selection of the 2015 Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. In the same year, her exhibition Habeas Corpus opened at the Park Avenue Armory to wide critical acclaim and in 2016 she received Yoko Ono’s Courage Award for the Arts for that project. 

In February 2019, Anderson won her first ever Grammy Award after four nominations, for the album Landfall, which was a collaboration with Kronos Quartet. A haunting cycle of songs observing the devastating wake of Hurricane Sandy, the album reflects on how human memory can be stronger than catastrophe, as well as on her own loss of many items of personal significance. 

She lives in New York City. 

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