On seeing Laurie Anderson's show a second time, amidst a throng of potential buddhists.
Love Letter Day 27.
I went back to the Laurie Anderson show at the Hirshhorn this week. The first time I went, there was hardly anyone else in the museum, but this time, there was a long line. It was pretty annoying.
I hate lines. I understand waiting as longing but I do not understand waiting to see something that does not require being waited for. Still, I stood in the line and went through the entire cycle of waiting. 1) Is this a line? I must find the proper end of it so as not to offend anyone. 2) Ugh, look at all the idiots who don’t know it’s a line, yet. 3) Are you kidding me?! This line isn’t moving as fast as it should. 4) I’m going to try psychically moving the people in this line and also the people who keep walking right up to the front of the line thinking they will be snuck in or somehow be forgiven for cutting. 5) I’m so close to the front of the line and don’t care anymore. I’m going to spend so much time in here. Fuck all these people who waited before me. I’m going to regale in this art exhibition.
On my second trip to The Weather by Laurie Anderson, I noticed that some of the tech gadgets were broken. Exhibit A: One of the flags in Salute was immobile. It almost looked like a statement except I was positive it was supposed to be in tandem with the other flags. Exhibit B: In the immersive room installation, there was a clear beeping of a low battery. I knew the sound so well—it sounded like a natural part of the gallery because there were so many ambient sounds but I recognized its tone because 1) I’d come from a hotel that happened to be chiming three different alarm tones at once (I’m not making this up—I basically checked into the Last Hotel On Earth where all of their smoke alarms had dead batteries), and 2) the first time I came to this exhibition, I did not hear this specific sound. Exhibit C: As I was leaving the exhibition, I’d noticed that already, someone had managed to damage a didactic panel. This did not bother me, as in “ooo vandalism,” but struck me as funny, “oooo vandalism!”
Anyway, I mention all of this—the stressful environment, the compromise in quality of the exhibition, and even my misgivings about a couple of the pieces, once I’d had a chance to ruminate over, in the midst of a crowd—because I discovered what I believe to be a tenet of her work in general:
I really felt this time, like no other, that Laurie Anderson’s work is about forgiveness. Maybe forbearance. Slightly different but both depending on a kind of restraint. I realize that forgiveness is a concept that is invoked almost exclusively in light of an offense. However, there is both a triggering (pointed) and ambient (vague) aspect of acts of faith in humanity and forgiveness symbolizes both. I don’t mean that her show is prosaic (far from it). There’s no call to action, like “let’s let bygones be white people”… but she knows who she is, where she is, what the work means, and why our interpretation of it, over time, matters; ultimately…(this is a lot of commas but I want you to think of them as musical cues and breathe with each stanza) I believe she wants us to expose ourselves little by little to the idea of Truth, with the very simple act of understanding our circumstances. I believe she is spiritual, and frankly, you can’t get to spirituality without forgiveness. You don’t have to understand what I’m saying. Just listen to what she says in her narratives.
Two stories in particular arrest me, full body. One about a stay in a hospital as a child, and the other about a near death encounter with her siblings, on a lake. To her, these are stories about memory—remembered time—but to me, you cannot get there without allowing yourself to get there. Allowing yourself to get there requires forgiving yourself for murder.
I am not a Buddhist.
I actually grimace at how excited everyone gets about Buddhism. And OK, when I say “everyone” I mean “white people.”
As someone whose family was veered into all of its directions by Buddhism, I sincerely loathe that anyone would take its tenets at will and without question; understand it as the providence of god without seeing the mundane damage it has caused globally. My father was terrorized by Buddhist dogma, and I spent my entire childhood of summers indoctrinated by genuflections to weapons of minor ego negation. You like meditating alone near a waterfall? Awesome. Would that we all could, brother.
I do not say this in some passive aggressive postscript to disdain Laurie Anderson, whom I believe is still a practicing Buddhist; with whom I now feel such “parasocial” (sic?) kinship I deserve the ridicule of a “loser fangirl” totem. I say all this to tell you. YOU. To you, I want to say:
What I get from the message of forgiveness, forbearance, the realities of memory, the opportunities of time collapsing on itself through karma…is that I have spent my life making room for detachment and wisdom, thinking detachment was forgiveness, wisdom was power. Detachment is a brilliant way to move past suffering. And once you’re there, my god, you’re practically enlightened, aren’t you. You can cross off desire, attachment, possession. Right?
Forgiveness means I get to feel awful half of the day because I’ve been replaced. Forgiveness means I fantasize about how else the world could go out of its way to keep me on its largest marquee.
Opening my two eyes to the world means I still only have two hands; free to demonstrate to the world what needs to be understood without uttering it, but to hold you at the same time. That’s it. I cannot possibly do anything else with my body that doesn’t mean giving my entire whole to you. I have no intention to open my body up to the rest of the universe.
I liked seeing the Laurie Anderson show with a hundred other people and feeling protective of the experience, and even liked that so many people seemed specifically to want the viewing experience as part of a crowd (how else do you know it matters?) but I always knew I had a singular interpretation of it, in the midst of that noise. That’s also how I know I’m not a buddhist. You can bring whoever you want to this room. Bring the whole class if you want. But I will always insist on being the only one you can feel.