By Antoine du Rocher
November 27, 2007
NEW YORK, 27 NOVEMBER 2007 —The American performance artist and experimental musician Laurie Anderson (b. 1947) was awarded the 2007 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize during a ceremony at the Hudson Theatre, Millennium Broadway in New York on 13 November. She received a silver medal and approximately $300,000.
The Gish Prize, a legacy from silent film stars Dorothy and Lillian Gish, recognizes outstanding talents in the arts. Lillian’s will specified that it should be awarded annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Now in its 14th year, the Gish Prize is one of the largest awards in the arts (drama, music, dance, art, architecture, lighting design, film, and literature).
Over more than 20 years Laurie Anderson has worked as a visual artist, composer, ventriloquist, poet, photographer, filmmaker and electronics whiz, producing works that range from simple spoken word performances to elaborate multimedia events that highlight the use of technology in the arts. As a composer, Anderson contributed music to films by Wim Wenders and Jonathan Demme; scores to dance pieces by Bill T. Jones, Trisha Brown , Molissa Fenley; and a score for Robert LePage’s theater production, Far Side of the Moon.
In 2003, The Musée d’ Art Contemporain of Lyon in France produced a touring retrospective of her work, The Record of the Time: Sound in the Work of Laurie Anderson , which included installation, audio, instruments, video, and art objects spanning Anderson’s career from the 1970’s to her most current works. The retrospective toured internationally from 2003 to 2005.
During the Gish Prize ceremony which included an uneven piano performance by Philip Glass and remarks by performance artist Marina Abramovic , Anderson spoke on the importance of beauty and story telling. She even mused on their significance in contemporary American politics and foreign affairs:
“You can even get a lot of people to believe a story about how they’re in great danger and how there’s an evil despot with lots of hidden weapons who wants to kill you. I mean you can actually start wars with stories. That’s how magic they really are.
And if it’s a really good story, you can tell it again. Just add a few new details about mushroom clouds hanging over U.S. cities and invasions of the homeland. Just change a few names and places and you can tell the exact same story again and you can start another war. Because everyone forgot that the first story wasn’t a true story. But of course the point was never that it was a true story. The point was that it was that it was a good story. A really scary story. Scary, convincing, and beautiful.
So what do stories mean in a country where the government promotes violence and is also very media-savvy, very story-savvy? What does a true story mean now? What’s a beautiful story? And what does it mean when labels are slapped onto concepts? When the Geneva Convention for example is suddenly labeled quaint? How do concepts like beauty and truth work these days? Have they also become quaint? Something from other simpler times?
Anderson’s eclectic career also included an appointment in 2002 as the first artist-in-residence of NASA, out of which she developed her solo performance, The End of the Moon, as well as work on the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The second in Laurie Anderson’s trilogy of solo works, The End of the Moon is part travelogue, part personal theories and dreams. In it Anderson weaves narrative and music; painting an expansive but intimate picture of American culture. The work explores the tangled relationships between war, consumerism and spirituality. Of her little known collaboration with NASA she had this to say:
One of the things I loved about NASA was that they also have stories with very long time lines. But many of their stories are really upbeat. And who knows? Maybe even true. One of these is a story about a project with a 5,000-year time line. And the idea of this story is to move all the manufacturing off the earth onto the moon and Mars and then to gradually remove all the toxic and radioactive materials and to ship this off. And this, along with extreme population control, would allow the earth to repair itself, to return to its original state, back to a kind of Garden of Eden, whatever that was.
Of course, there are a few problems with this plan. One is an issue currently in the international courts involving ownership and a claim by a Chinese realty company that they own the moon. Of course, this is a pretty big problem, because the Russians are saying, “Wait a minute! We got there first. We planted the first flag.” And the Americans are saying, “No, no. No way! We had the first man there.” And the Italians are saying, “OK, OK. But we saw it first.”
Previous recipients of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize include Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Lloyd Richards, Arthur Miller, Merce Cunningham, Isabel Allende, Shirin Neshat, Bob Dylan, Peter Sellars, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Wilson , and Frank Gehry.
By Antoine du Rocher