For the past five years, esteemed American composer, musician, and performance artist Laurie Anderson has been a regular fixture at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). On Friday, December 12, Anderson will complete her tenure as the center’s first Distinguished Artist in Residence with a debut screening and discussion of her new film.
Begun as a 40-minute personal essay for French-German Arte TV, New Film (a personal essay) captures a series of interconnected confessional stories set against a soundtrack of original music. Partially filmed at EMPAC, the film has been expanded to feature length, driven by Anderson’s spirit of transformation, embracing uncertainty in her process while allowing the work to take on new properties as it was being made.
In crossing the nebulous border between television and feature film, Anderson’s film reveals new insights into each, while also opening a cinematic window into her own life. The screening will be accompanied by a discussion about Anderson’s artistic process, how making film soundtracks differs from making music, and what it’s like making something that gradually begins to turn into another thing altogether.
Over the years, these discussions have given the Rensselaer community generous access to the mind and methods of one of the contemporary art world’s greatest innovators. A progenitor of media art, Anderson began producing avant-garde music in the 1970s before the single “O Superman” brought her work into the mainstream in 1980. Beyond composition and performance, Anderson has invented a number of electronic musical instruments, including the tape-bow violin and the talking stick, a six-foot-long MIDI controller. In 2003, her worked earned her the very first arts residency with NASA.
Anderson first came to EMPAC as a resident artist in 2009 to complete work on Delusion, a complex series of stories about longing, memory, and identity commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. At EMPAC, she found the ideal working environment to try new ideas and integrate the diverse, multidisciplinary elements of the work, including music, visuals, altered voices, and electronic puppetry.
Based on the success of the extensive working relationship between Anderson and EMPAC, founding Time-Based Arts Curator Kathleen Forde and Director Johannes Goebel proposed this new opportunity, as EMPAC’s inaugural Distinguished Artist in Residence. This was the first time an artist had been invited for an extended time unrelated to a specific project, with the express goal of sharing the artist’s creative practice with a technology-focused campus and the community through lectures, work-in-progress demonstrations, Web documentation, workshops, and more. She used the appointment to develop The Gray Rabbit, Forty-Nine Days in the Bardo, Landfall, The Swimmer, and finally, New Film. In this time, she participated in a series of class visits and public events, delivering lectures such as “Designing and Customizing Instruments for Performance and Recording,” “Art and Archive,” and “Voices.”
Last year, she hosted an evening of film screenings along with Rensselaer Distinguished Research Professor of Music Pauline Oliveros, an association that goes back to the ’70s, and most recently she led a November workshop on “Tai Chi, Meditation and Making Art.”
Anderson’s tenure was an extension of EMPAC’s ongoing artist-in-residence program, which links established and emerging artists working in time-based media with EMPAC’s advanced facilities and expert production staff in the areas of audio, video, IT, and stage technologies, while opening space for collaboration with Rensselaer faculty, students, and researchers.
The film begins at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 12. Admission is free. For more, visit EMPAC’s website.