“Some say our empire is passing, as all empires do.”
The first words seen on screen during the first of Laurie Anderson’s three days at the National Concert Hall give a good indication of her mood. Sure enough, Donald Trump is mentioned straight off the bat, and one fears for yet another liberal lament. But Anderson’s show is more expansive, eloquent and wide-ranging than that, as she reads and plays her way through story, observation and memory.
She speaks of having wanted to do a standup routine, but only knowing two jokes. But really, there are many jokes in here, wry observations on absurd situations, and reflections on what it means to tell stories, and the paradox at their core. If we make ourselves out of them, but they are, nonetheless, utterly unreliable, then who the hell are we?
Anderson’s craft is to suggest such ideas without a hint of banal undergraduate philosophising. Her stage craft is sure and honed.
A second evening is more of a literary encounter, perhaps all the more due to persistent glitches which ruin any hoped-for visual effect. Anderson is good company though, giving a reading based on her forthcoming book, All the Things That I Lost in the Flood.
The show is mostly an wry look back at her own work, and insightful because of that. There’s her time as the first (“and last”) Nasa artist in residence, or the background to her work with the former Guantanamo detainee Mohammed El Gharani.
He was projected live from his home in Chad onto a giant Lincoln Memorial-like statue at the Armory in New York. Visitors were soon spotting a small camera that gave El Ghanni a view of proceedings, into which they were mouthing “I’m sorry.”
The residency was scheduled to conclude on Monday with a string performance alongside Rubin Kodheli and Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh.
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