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A Note on Laurie Anderson

Team C-print pens some words on 'Looking Into a Mirror Sideways'; Laurie Anderson's retrospective show opening April 1, 2023 at Moderna museet, Stockholm.

The authors of this text will assume that Laurie Anderson needs no further introduction. In reality, many, assumingly a younger generation, will discover her work for the very first time. Musician, author, performer, filmmaker and social activist; many epithets can be ascribed to Laurie Anderson. Entering the retrospective exhibition 'Looking into a Mirror Sideways', a quote from an Ingmar Bergman film (Laurie will later declare her love for Bergman films in a later section of the show), visitors are met by a dancing Laurie Anderson on a large-format screen (Drum Dance from Heart of the Brave, 1986). The exhibition design by architects Jägnefält Milton is flawless; the dark palette sits very well with the works. It’s not quite the loud exhibition that one might expect from this avant-garde musician. The sound elements are present but not confined, instead they are presented as a mash-up of sounds from various works.

With a pioneer at hand, it is not surprising to see works which draw from new technology, e.g. VR and A.I, presented in quite impressive ways. For instance, several of her speaking sculptures consisting of analogue holograms are on view. Yet, it’s the stories gracing the walls, and Laurie’s accompanying words, that resonate the most with us. There’s the story of her saving her twin brothers from drowning (The Lake), and another where a failed diving attempt to impress (by necessity; she grew up with many siblings) at the pool (she missed and fell on the concrete) rendered her a painful visit to the hospital. More specifically it is the act of retelling stories that Laurie draws our attention to. As is stated in the text 'Story About a Story' accompanying her works, every time we retell a story we, in a sense, defeat the original intention to uncover some truth about something or who we are. By our tendency to forget parts of the story we end up omitting some truths that lie therein.

At the press conference in a conversation with the curator, Lena Essling, we are told that the stories depart from her but they are not about her per se but intended to have a relatable appeal. Essential side note; Laurie Anderson radiates on stage. She comes across as warm and we’re told by one of the architects that she has been a delight to work with and has been working diligently on site for days.

Returning to the storytelling, it very much seems to be a key element of the show. From the visitor’s very first encounter with Axel Efraim Anderson – a staged imaginary visualization of the life of Laurie Anderson’s paternal grandfather who emigrated from Sweden at a young age. The images are based on the stories told and retold in the family, the family lore. In the first part of the exhibition Axel is depicted as happy and successful. In a later encounter with Axel, in the segment titled 'Axel The Real Story' – the story is retold based on research and not family lore. The grim reality of young Axel (losing a mother and incarcerated at a young age) is juxtaposed with the subject-matter of Habeas Corpus dealing with the fate of Mohamed el Gharani, the youngest inmate of Guantánamo (accused at the age of 12 for plotting a terrorist attack and later released and deported with no valid citizenship). Still without citizenship and the ability to travel, he’s present here in the form of a three-dimensional giant commanding the room. As a gesture, it’s powerful and effective.

Another standout is one of the more low-key works; the photographic documentation of a performance (Duets on Ice, 1974) carried out on the streets of NYC and Genoa, Italy. It sees a young Laurie Anderson walking around and playing the violin on skates frozen inside ice blocks; making a connection between how the skates and the bow carve into their respective surfaces. For us, it serves as a reminder that sometimes it's the simple gestures that strike the hardest.

Corina Wahlin and Koshik Zaman

Looking Into a Mirror Sideways (curator Lena Essling) runs until 3.9.2023 at Moderna museet, Stockholm


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