What's the first word that pops into your head when you hear "homeland"? Chances are it's "security." And in her new multimedia work, Homeland, performance artist Laurie Anderson delivers an extended multimedia musical composition that captures the current state of American culture and politics, complete with its disquieting atmosphere of homeland insecurity.
Throughout her artistic career, Laurie Anderson has wooed us with her prescience for future trends. Take her work from the early 1980s, when in project after project‹whether song, monologue, or multimedia performance‹Anderson ruminated on all things digital. More than a decade before the phrase came into common usage, she sensed that we were inthe digital age.
Anderson's insight into the cultural zeitgeist-to-come is grounded in her ability to tap into the present with dead-on precision. And that talent will be fully evident on March 26, when she performs Homeland at Zankel Hall.
Composed as a series of songs and stories, Homeland runs the gamut from Greek drama‹with an opening sequence that pays tribute to Artistophanes's The Birds‹to prostitution in Beverly Hills, global warming, the US dollar, the inefficiencies of corporate America, the ubiquity of advertising, our gradual loss of freedom, and (of course) technology. The force of patriarchy and the looming presence of the dead father, familiar themes in Anderson's work, also figure here: "I walk accompanied by ghosts. My father with his diamond eyes. His voice life size. He says: 'Follow me. Follow me.'"
Homeland marks a return to subject matter that Anderson deftly explored 25 years ago with her prophetic multimedia extravaganza United States: Parts I-IV. Combining music, performance, film, gesture-driven movement, and electronic gadgetry, this piece not only put Laurie Anderson on the map as an artist; it also introduced her vision of America seen through a lens colored by technology and images of airplanes, televisions, telephone answering machines, and other evocative metaphors describing the human condition of the time. In essence, it was her State of the Union address‹not the type where a president proudly proclaims his truth and Congress cheers along in high school pep-rally fashion. Anderson takes her role of messenger to a high level of artistry.
Although reared in the avant-garde, Anderson managed to rack up a hit single in Britain in 1981 with her song "Oh Superman," which is also included in Part II of United States. The song's lyrics communicate the artist's viewpoint of America during that time. In performance, Anderson's black-suited persona beckons to be embraced by her mother nation's "long arms"‹later described as "petrochemical arms" and "military arms." Such sentiments seem to have even more relevance to today's climate woes than that of the early 1980s and attest to Anderson's ability to take our country's long-term communal pulse.
In Homeland, Anderson comes full circle with her perpetual analysis of America's rarely talked-about inner psyche. Its music is as eclectic as its themes, offering plangent duos for violin and viola, the latest in groove electronics, sounds inspired by the extraordinary throat singers of Tuva (in southern Siberia), and the type of sonics that defy description.
To watch Anderson perform is to revel in her honesty. She imparts natural truths encoded in our DNA, whether soliloquizing a narrative based on folklore or reminiscing about a trip to the laundromat in a dream. Anderson's music and monologues are rapturous temples dedicated to our everyday existence, revealing our own insecurities.