Laurie Anderson's art turns to storytelling

Laurie Anderson

Performance artist Laurie Anderson continues to address the effects of technology and alienation on modern-day society in her latest work, “Dirtday!” She performs it Sept. 21 at the State Theatre, and joins a panel discussion on art and science Sept. 22 as part of the Museum of the Earth’s 10th anniversary celebration.

“Dirtday!” is “a series of linked stories, kind of my favorite mode to work in, which leaves a lot of room for people to make connections between them,” Anderson said. “They are ranging all over the place, from theories about evolution to some sort of dreamlike imagery.”

Performed around the world since 2012, “Dirtday!” is more storytelling than multimedia – there are some short films, music and a minimal stage set: a comfortable chair, about 80 candles and a music stand.

Anderson in Ithaca

Laurie Anderson performs “Dirtday!” Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. at the State Theatre; tickets are $19.50-$34.50 at the box office and

The Sept. 22 panel discussion, 2-4 p.m. at the Museum of the Earth, includes 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry Roald Hoffmann, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus at Cornell; paleo-artist John Gurche; and moderator Barbara Mink. Tickets are $10 at

It includes a “journalistic piece … on a tent city in New Jersey, called Lakewood. It’s an amazing place,” she said. “People lost their jobs and their houses, and started living in tents. It’s kind of crazy. That section of the series of stories is really just pretty much straight reporting of what I saw. Also, the work is underscored with keyboards and violin, and in another way is sort of a long piece of music.”

“Dirtday!” is the third in a series of performance pieces Anderson has built around long stories, after “Happiness” and “End of the Moon.”

“I thought these don’t really fit into song structures, and I didn’t like the idea of doing these as songs,” she said. “It also seems like a film to me.”

She is adapting some of the stories for Arte, the French television network.

“The work is really fun to do for me, especially this one. I have a lot of freedom in it,” she said. “I can go from topic to topic and sound to sound, and in many ways it makes me really free to improvise.”

Anderson is always trying new technologies. In June, she did a collaborative hip-hop performance in Toronto with artist Ai Weiwei, live from Beijing via Skype.

“You know, it works about as well as Skype does as home; it gets frozen and the audience is left hanging on where you are,” she said. “It was sort of fun to do a big tech show and also have it be a kind of improv, which are two of my favorite things to do.”

While Anderson has resisted suggestions to revive her best-known work from the 1980s, “United States,” the four-part epic that spawned her only pop hit, “O Superman,” she is working on a new installment, “United States 5,” that may reference the earlier work.

“I think it’s a really good time to look at what’s going on around here,” she said. “It sounds like the same place, when I listen to some of those songs. ‘O Superman’ was written during the Iran-Contra affair – basically during a war that is still going on in the Middle East. Some of the things I won’t have to change at all … Basically we are in that same war and have given it seven different names and theme songs since it began.”

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Joe Schwartz