Laurie Anderson: ‘There are so many sad things in the world. If you pretend they’re not there, you’re an idiot.’ Photograph: Tarnish Vision
The avant-garde pioneer’s virtual-reality installation To the Moon is coming to Manchester international festival.
The moon has always been a playground for the imagination. Since a cannon-propelled rocket pierced the moon’s surface in Georges Méliès’ 1902 classic Le Voyage dans la Lune, Earth’s only natural satellite has been a subject of fascination for film-makers and visual artists. It might be 50 years since Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, yet the moon still captivates and inspires.
The moon is the focus of the latest work from avant-garde pioneer Laurie Anderson, which is fitting, given that she’s a former Nasa artist in residence. To the Moon, her new collaboration with Taiwanese artist Hsin-Chien Huang, has allowed Anderson to create a typically definition-defying journey. She says of the exhibition, which reaches Manchester international festival on 12 July: “I’m happiest when I can’t really define the work. To the Moon is an experiment in hybrids, seeing how these various media can come together and share images, stories and music.”
Anderson has never shied away from the cutting-edge, or the unknown. When making her first foray into virtual reality (VR) with 2017’s Chalkroom, she encountered new storytelling challenges in a medium that gave the audience a level of control over their own experience: “You have to forget everything you know about narrative. At first I was terrified about giving up that autonomy. I had to give up the idea of definitive structure.”
It’s a format that Anderson has fully embraced, returning to VR for To the Moon. She sees it as escapism from the screens so central to everyday life: “I spend [so much of] my day on my phone, looking at these rectangles, that I just want to get up and out. So, it’s a relief to me to work in a medium that can be more physical.”
It’s escapism for the audience, too. Throughout the 15-minute VR artwork and accompanying film, the audience traverse numerous lunar landscapes, encountering rubbish sent from Earth, or enjoying a donkey ride in space. In our chaotic, conflicted times, Anderson is keen to present a diversion, while not ignoring the world around us: “There are so many sad things in the world. If you pretend they’re not there, you’re an idiot. They’re there, they’ll find you. So acknowledge they’re there, but don’t become it.”
She sees the state of the world as an opportunity to explore alternative landscapes: “It’s a very good time to be creating new realities. The moon is a great subject for that – it’s a great way to investigate the unreal.”
As cutting-edge and future-facing as the exhibition may be, it’s underpinned by the almost timeless notion of adventure, the dreams of space that have inspired humans for centuries. Anderson concludes: “The moon has a very inspiring, dreamlike existence. Secretly all I want to do is to let people fly.”
To the Moon is at The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, Manchester M2 7DH, 12-20 July