It’s about loss - but funny?
Death has been on Laurie Anderson’s mind lately, and it’s made its way into her art: her stage show, “Delusion,’’ which she performs at the Paramount Theatre starting Tuesday, and an exhibition of large paintings and other work that opened last week in Philadelphia.
“I would say loss and death are big themes in both pieces. At the same time, I’m kind of reluctant to say that because it’s such a taboo, you know,’’ she said. Then she laughed. “People are like, ‘Oh, boy, do I not want to go to a show about loss and death. Not tonight, thank you very much.’ ’’
So, for the record, the musician and multimedia artist would like it known that “Delusion,’’ which premiered last year, is not a “kind of gloomy death show’’ but, rather, a funny one. Employing elements of “Homeland,’’ her 2010 album, and “Night Life,’’ her 2006 dream journal of drawings, it combines live music, spoken narrative, and extensive video that at times covers the entire set and Anderson as well.
The show’s music, text, and visual design are all by Anderson, who plays keyboard and violin. Two other musicians are on viola and horns, sometimes hidden, sometimes backlit behind screens on either side of the stage.
The idea for the show, Anderson said by phone from New York, was to make “a kind of 3-D movie, not with glasses but with all the parts sort of in different places in the room.’’
The screens and a couch at center stage are draped with “really rumpled paper that’s been plasticized,’’ she said. Like a larger screen at the back of the stage, all three have video projected onto them.
“When you wrap video around an object like that, the object itself starts to come to life,’’ said Amy Khoshbin, who created the show’s video design and does its live mix on tour.
It’s a matter of “almost painting with video, or using video to set the scene in an almost architectural way,’’ Khoshbin said.
The stories Anderson tells in “Delusion’’ are salvaged from a series of plays she wrote (“They were horrible,’’ she said). Some she delivers in the electronically distorted male voice of her alter ego, Fenway Burgamot. Anderson’s husband, Lou Reed, gave him his name.
“It’s fun to have an alter ego,’’ said Anderson, who in conversation sounds a little like Diane Keaton, with not a trace of the mesmeric vocal cadence she uses in performance. “It’s fun to jump out of your own carefully concocted personality and just be someone else, and somebody who’s a bit more of a loose cannon than you would necessarily be.
“But I’ve always really liked doing that,’’ she added, “because I find that in a certain way, being an artist can be even more restrictive than being a person, you know, because you’re corralled into your zone: ‘You’re a poet. Stay in the poetry zone.’ There are art police there who will give you tickets if you go outside of your habitat.’’
Anderson, 64, was trained as a visual artist, but several decades passed without her making a single painting, she said. So going outside her habitat is what she feels like she’s doing with “Forty-Nine Days in the Bardo,’’ her exhibition at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum.
“It sort of follows ‘Delusion’ in a way because one of the stars of the show, my dog Lolabelle, died. She died in April,’’ Anderson said. “And she’s been my collaborator for 12 years. She’s been in a lot of the stories. She’s in ‘Delusion.’ So this is the first time I’m doing a show after her death, and it’s really going to be strange.’’
The title of the exhibition refers to the Tibetan Buddhist interval between incarnations. The bardo, Anderson explained, is a “49-day period in which your mind dissolves and you kind of transform into another kind of energy for your rebirth.’’
“I suddenly realized after Lolabelle died that . . . 49 days later, her so-called rebirth is on what day? It’s on my birthday,’’ she said. “I’m a believer in magic numbers sometimes, you know.’’
That timing, Anderson said, is what led her to create a series of drawings and paintings of the bardo.
“Actually, I made a violin out of mud and Lolabelle’s ashes. One of the pieces in the show,’’ she said. “It’s really been intense putting that together.’’
But joy entered Anderson’s voice when she spoke about the exhilaration of slopping paint around in her studio and getting “covered with crud’’ - an escape from the ethereality of music into a “chaotic mess of paint, clay, and, you know, just stuff.’’
“The thing about the paintings is it’s kind of a relief for me to work in a medium where I’m not supposed to be,’’ she said. “So I don’t really care if they’re good, and I don’t care what people think of them, and I don’t care if they look like other people’s things. It doesn’t matter.
“Now, those are questions that I do ask myself in music and theatrical things: Is it good? Does it look like someone else’s? Is it, you know, the best I can do? Those kind of things, ’cause I’m . . .’’ - Anderson shifted her voice radio-announcer low, mocking herself - “Supposedly.’’ She laughed.
Two weeks ago, on Sept. 11, Anderson went to ground zero for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The next day, she was still thinking about the “evaporation,’’ she said, of huge, seemingly permanent structures.
“We try to make them seem solid, but they’re really not,’’ she said. “Just move ahead in 20 years and you’ll see how fragile they are. Or move back 20 years. You try to make them so-called real, so that you can depend on them and live your life, but really so much of it is, you’d have to say, delusional.’’
“Delusion’’ occupies the intersection of reality and dreamscape - a function of Anderson’s belief that the line between them “is getting pretty blurry.’’
“Not that a delusional state is a horrible state. It can be a wonderful place to live,’’ she said, and laughed. “Dreams and so-called reality are shifting back and forth all the time in ‘Delusion’ to try to create this picture of a world that is fragile, really.’’
Laura Collins-Hughes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.