Multimedia artist explores life and death in Delusion

by Beacon Staff • October 4, 2011

Tim Strain, Beacon Staff

“A tear falls from my right eye because I love you, a tear falls from my left eye because I can’t bear you,” coos avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson in her one-woman show emDelusion/em. The technically magnificent performance blends a compelling combination of spoken word, song, slide show, and surrealist imagery to create an enthralling show about life and death.

The wiry 64-year-old New York-based multimedia artist, donning black capris, white shirt, and a black tie, brings her critically lauded 90-minute show to the Paramount Mainstage for four more performances, tonight through Sunday, after raising the curtain Tuesday.

She plays the violin and keyboard and muses about death and her struggles to come to terms with it, all while video projectors cast surrealist imagery on the wall-spanning screen behind her. She explores her heritage, the events surrounding her mother’s death, and humankind’s collective insignificance in the wide expanse of the cosmos.

While the house lights were still on, the packed audience was coerced into silence by the sound of gradually increasing rainfall. Once the storm reached thunderous volume and every remaining whisper was extinguished, the lights were turned off and Anderson entered.

The first movement of the show is a projected image of a picture frame, where orange-tinted leaves fall during a rain storm.  It is one of the few blasts of color in a show dominated by black, white, and many gloomy shades of gray. The quickly subsiding flurry of color represents the end of summer and the death that all things must experience.

“I want to tell you a story,” says Anderson as she picks up her modified electric violin and begins the show. What will be left after we die? What has been the purpose of our time on earth? Quoting author Herman Melville, “What is a man if he outlives the lifetime of his God?” These are the questions she raises.

p class=size-full wp-image-3813559 title=fightback3Knowing better than to attempt to answer these questions, she instead approaches the subject from various perspectives. She gives original monologues about the death of her parents and the inevitability of humankind’s collective downfall. She looks at ease speaking to — and sometimes overwhelming the senses of — her audience./p

She winks, metaphorically and sometimes literally, at the audience throughout the piece, embracing the absurdity of her storytelling method and her own idiosyncrasies.

“Why don’t we,” she ponders, “instead of putting a period at the end of a sentence, put a clock that shows how much time it took to write the sentence?”

The pitch black heavy-handedness of her subject matter would make her ruminations more laughable in the hands of someone less experienced; someone who did not understand the subtle humor available to the performer due to the show’s themes. Her tragicomic rendition of the classic lullaby “Twinkle Twinkle” exemplifies her abilities. It is as haunting as it is giggle-inducing.

Since NASA asked her to be the agency’s first ever artist-in-residence in 2004, her fascination with the cosmos is not surprising. What is striking about her final frontier-themed meditations is the little-known information about the space race she presents — space travel dates back to the mid-19th century, actually; NASA is planning a massive migration of technology, manufacturing, and industrial waste to the moon so that our planet may regenerate; China is suing various superpowers in international court for ownership of the moon.

While some of her stories, such as the reflection on her mother’s death, seem believable, others are so hard to believe that they come off as new-age folklore complete with electronic music. When she relates how she went to Ireland to trace her lineage, and a local farmer tells how he ran away from home the same way Anderson’s father did, she cheekily raises her eyebrows. It’s too good to be true, right?

Whether any of the statements she makes in emDelusion/em are truthful is inconsequential. The entertainment is seeing this skillful musician and public speaker address as-large-as-life issues from oblique perspectives, and her incorporation of occasionally subtle, but often bombastic, audiovisuals.

Anderson’s quest to address some of the biggest concepts humans have ever faced is ambitious by its own merits. That she approaches it in her own style and keeps her audience’s minds engaged and feet tapping makes it a rousing success.

p class=size-full wp-image-3813560 title=group-with-menounosemDelusion /emruns tonight at 7:30 p.m., tomorrow and Saturday evening at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. All performances are at the Paramount Mainstage./p

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