This January, Laurie Anderson was the artist in residence during the High Performance Rodeo1, Calgary. Her video installation, The Gray Rabbit, is showing at the Glenbow Museum till April 9, 2012.
Freely associating symbols through the examination of an informative life incident, the influence of that incident illuminates the psyche to allow a more wholesome comprehension of self. From the rabbit warren of memory, trauma is cleared of any power to inhibit as the mind skirts around the blockage to arrive on the other side where the vista is cleared of the stigmatic associations. It is through self-examination that the gifts of character and heritage are able to sing more clearly.
The symbolic meanings for rabbits are extensive. In the golden mean or Fibonacci system, rabbits illustrate the ideal rate of propagation. Rabbits stand in for fertility in Freudian and Jungian dream interpretations or for springtime as The Easter Bunny. Prey to aggressive species, the rabbit is symbolic for cunning and trickery that extrapolates to become the well-known rabbit’s foot as an emblem for good luck. The rabbit signifies cowardice in Jewish lore and drunkenness by the Aztecs. Rabbit-hood was re- invented by Lewis Carroll and then reinterpreted by Tim Burton. Playboy gave the bunny a new twist in the 60’s, then Barry Flanagan and Jeff Koons blew the bunny up to even greater proportions. Looking to Anderson’s installation at the Glenbow, we search for clues to understanding the life of the enigmatic performer through her use of the rabbit.
Anderson was a child who gravitated towards the arts. She played the violin at five and loved to draw. “My family was large, not supportive nor discouraging. They were happy when we were doing what we liked to do,” she told me during our phone conversation.
A traumatic interruption occurred when she was twelve. Trying to perform a dive from a high diving board, she broke her back. It was during her recovery in the children’s ward that she was read a story about a grey rabbit. At the time, she found it annoyingly below her reading level. She refers to this memory in her video installation, The Gray Rabbit.
Laurie Anderson grew up at a time when it was not necessary to define oneself as a musician or a visual artist as pop culture opened to a dialogue between mediums. She became highly visible in 1981 when O Superman rose to #2 on the UK Singles Charts. For many, she became the artist to watch, a female virtuoso who assumed her rightful position on the world’s stages yet still remains down to earth.
Anderson’s ‘rabbit-ness’ lies in the way the imagery runs away from us. In a dream-like space, we are lead through doors and passages of the unconsciousness as if we abandoned at the doorway to sleep any rationale that might guide the narrative. The Gray Rabbit is hauntingly like the first lines of the Tale of Two Cities, the pages of which are strewn in this rabbit warren, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”
Anderson was generous and spontaneous during her residency. She performed a work acknowledged as “in progress” Another Day in America, delivering unique versions over different evenings. Anderson has creatively used samplings in her audio pieces and invented instruments so the expectation was that she would use the rare instruments at Cantos Music Foundation during The Interactive Performance Tour, conducted by the director Andrew Mosker. Instead of playing, Anderson, engagingly, told stories. As the guest of honour at a dinner titled A Beginning, Middle and an End she was hailed as the “toast of the town.”
When asked if she has periods of respite within her prolific output, Anderson describes her lifestyle as hermetic. The Gray Rabbit lays bare sensitive memories.
Recently, 2009, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed performed the Velvet Underground song Pale Blue Eyes. Forty years away from the original recording, it was a beautifully poignant rendition. Anderson’s comment on this performance was: “The words are very beautiful and it is always interesting to approach old material once again. We were looking at each other as we sang and the song is all about eyes, looking into the eyes and seeing from a point of view, seeing differently.”
The Gray Rabbit grants an opportunity to look from a different point of view. Like a dream, we enter sleep willingly to abandon the dictatorship of the viewer.
Laurie Anderson is currently working on a book of dreams.
(1) Now 25 years old, High Performance Rodeo is the love child of One Yellow Rabbit