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Postcard from Japan:
On Tour with Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson, Ten Postcards

The song „O Superman“ made her world famous as a pop star. But the work of multimedia artist Laurie Anderson cannot be fitted into clear-cut categories. With virtuosity, she’s tracing the phenomena of mass culture und transforms them into poetic and abysmal high-tech performances and works of art. Anyone who wants to know what a lipstick camera is or why Anderson’s dog Lolabelle is able to detect the future will be enlightened by our author, Cheryl Kaplan: She accompanied the restless and versatile artist to the Expo 2005 in Japan.

Expo 2005, Japan

Laurie Anderson recently arrived in Japan. Her performances are filled with uncanny complexity at Expo 2005 in Nagoya where she is debuting several commissions: her high definition film, Hidden Inside Mountains and a multi-media garden installation called Walk, as well as a series of live concerts titled Ten Postcards. Having produced the film and garden installation, I traveled with Laurie Anderson to Japan.

Anderson’s also in the middle of a year-long tour, End Of The Moon, that grew out of her work with NASA . In 2003 she was named their first artist in residence. NASA has an archive of over 800 works by 250 artists and musicians, including work from Robert Rauschenberg and Norman Rockwell. As it turns out Anderson’s two-year tenure has also earned her the honor of being the first and the last NASA artist in residence. Never mind, it’s space.

Poster for Ten Postcards

Back on earth, Anderson’s work has included everything from a month long stint at a MacDonald’s in Chinatown to an entry written on her home town New York for the Encyclopedia Britannica. She studied classical violin at five and by 1982 her song, O Superman, had become the number 2 pop-chart hit in England, launching her career as a musician, poet and performance artist, and someone who pushes the limits of technology In 1977, Anderson introduced the tape-bow violin: She replaced the bow strings usually made of horsehair with different strips of pre-recorded audio tape; the sound is then produced by running the bow across a playback head mounted on the violin’s bridge. Some 20 years later, she developed the Talking Stick, a kind of high-tech instrument shaped like a harpoon and emitting all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds.

Ten Postcards, Live Concert

Her most recent tours are now reduced to several suitcases. Ever hopeful, Anderson says: “Eventually it will all fit into my pocket.” Both her performances: the solo work, End Of The Moon , and Ten Postcards which features her long-time collaborator, the bassist Skuli Sverrisson and percussionist Jim Black, use, among other things, a combination of text, armchair and ELMO lipstick camera — a kind of self-spying tool that lets Anderson transfer her live image to the audience in an upside down free-fall that closely mimics a moonwalk. (The camera is tethered to a long wire.) Transmission in all its forms is always at her core.

Anderson is constantly moving. She’s collaborated with underground writer William Burroughs, played next to Bruno Ganz in the film System without Shadow by Rudolf Thome, and has contributed (to films by Wim Wenders, Julien Schnabel and Jonathan Demme. Her work is haunting, at times evasive, but always returns to sting when least expected.

Ten Postcards, Live Concert

In her Japan performance, Ten Postcards, Anderson talks about her dog, Lolabelle, the ever-watchful minder. As an agent for a universe caught in its own trap, Lolabelle becomes the unwitting link between what’s safe and what’s sure to go wrong. Anderson’s use of spoken language has been her trademark, but in Hidden Inside Mountains, a high definition film that can be seen on the world’s largest HD Astrovision screen at Expo 2005, words appear only as subtitles in Japanese and English and are never spoken. Except for occasional singing by Antony, the work operates more like a silent film.

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