By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
These days, she says, she's interested in creating a place for "useless art." Her contemporaries have come to view things differently: It's now almost beyond discussion that fine artists and experimental musicians collaborate with corporations; even Brian Eno -- the man who taught Anderson to embrace failure -- sold his gifts to create the "Microsoft Sound." Anderson doesn't hold it against them; not personally, anyway. "It's just that I love it when somebody resists," she says -- however futile that resistance might sometimes be. Anderson recalls in 1994's Stories From the Nerve Bible how in 1976 she walked into the Museum of Modern Art, where she was performing, and saw a big poster that said: "MOBIL OIL PRESENTS A PERFORMANCE BY LAURIE ANDERSON."
"I was shocked," she wrote. "I had signed a contract with a museum, not an oil company. This was when I first realized that no matter how hard you tried to avoid it, if you were in the art world, the big money wouldn't be too far away."
These days, it's even closer. "One of the reasons ad campaigns are getting so visually sophisticated," she tells me, "is that a lot of artists get out of art school and find it very hard to exist in the art world, because there aren't enough institutions to support them; there aren't places for young artists to come in and try to get their work done. So they join an ad agency and produce high-style commercials for dreary subject matter. Car commercials have great little movies, and a sense of humor, and beauty, because these people who are normally drawn to other ways of creating things are going there.
"But I want to work on and think about creating an area for useless art," she says. "You know, somebody asked me to do an Absolut Vodka ad, and I said no. And they said, 'Well, why? All your friends are doing it!' And I said -- 'I don't have any problem with them doing it, I just don't want to do it myself.' But they kept calling me, because this bothered them for some reason, and finally I told them, it's because of Mario Cuomo. And they said, 'Good! Because he's done one, too!'
''But what I meant by that was that I'd always admired Mario Cuomo, and then I saw him doing a Doritos ad. There he was -- known for his legal sharpness, his really fine mind, and he's peddling corn chips. And he had every right to cash in on his name, every right. But I would've been so happy if he hadn't. And so I said to the Absolut people, 'No, you don't understand. It's becausehe did it I don't want to do it.'
"I'm not interested in martyrdom. I'd just like to be one of the people who says no to things like that." Her own resistance, however, often forces her to spend more time than she'd like in Europe -- where institutions that support artists do still exist -- and to invent funding sources where none existed before. "When I got back from the tour in '95, I made a five-year plan: an opera, an electronic symphony and all this stuff. It had all the flaws of a Russian five-year plan -- too many carrots, not enough crude oil -- but I put all my work in a box, a distressingly small box, a bunch of books and some CD-ROMs and films and records, and I sent it to Paul Allen, who was Bill Gates' business partner. I said, 'I'm looking for a Medici.' And I thought, 'Good luck. I'll never hear from him.'"
But she did, and a few weeks later he invited her to discuss her plan over drinks. "I remember us standing at a bar, talking, and I'm holding a beer, and my hand is shaking so bad, I'm sweating and shaking. I'm really nervous, because it's so hard for me to ask people for things. And then the beer falls out of my hand and spills all over his white pants. And I thought, 'That's the end of your dream. You just can't do stuff like that and then ask for somebody's help.' But what he did was hook me up with a group called Integral Research, in Silicon Valley, which was a big think tank. He supported my little production company in exchange for my being a consultant. So I would go out there and largely, I have to say, bluff my way through these things, because these designers were very deep into their systems, and very, very smart. And so I became the art consultant.
"The art consultant," she repeats. "Who could hate anyone more than that? 'Hi! I'm the art consultant!How's it going guys?' And they'd say, 'Well, you're familiar with the QX23 system, right?' And I'd answer, 'Oh, sure, yeah, how's it, you know, working in thiscase?'" â
Pressed for details, she admits that "I was able to make, I think, some useful contributions, because I tend to look at the flip side, or turn something upside down, which when you're really deep into something you might forget to do. I know enough to do that. So it was very good for me, and maybe a little bit helpful to some of them."