Making “creepy mannequins come alive” in Hugo Boss’s shop window in London’s Regent Street leaves artist Laurie Anderson unfazed. “I love having the street as my audience” she says, hopping up a ladder and scribbling graffiti across the window.
Promoting and art-directing Meltdown, a five-week festival at the Royal Festival Hall, is, however, another matter. She claims: “Suddenly I’m on the other side of the fence. I can really sympathise with promoters now, as I’m the one saying, ‘hey you, flaky artist, you’d better show up’.”
Flaky isn’t the word that springs to mind when you observe the line-up for the show. It’s the South Bank’s largest summer festival and Spalding Gray, Lou Reed and Brian Eno are just a few of the stars Anderson has brought together. As well as the big names, there’s an eclectic mix of musicians, comedians, writers and actors, including Heather Woodbury, who performs an eight-hour soap opera over four evenings.
Anderson explains: “I want to bring together all those whose work I admire, and with only a mike and a stool, Heather introduces more than 100 characters. It is this ‘impoverished’ theatre scene that I’m into. I really hate hi-tech art.”
This seems like a bit of a contradiction for a woman who is dubbed a multimedia artist, and the pioneering one at that. She’s been at the forefront of interactive art for years and her studio in New York is humming with wires. But she doesn’t want to be tarred by the brush of technology: “It’s a means to an end. If people think I’m technologically great, I think I’ve messed up,” she says. “My work is about stories, words and music.”
Hence Meltdown, where she will perform with more than 100 violinists, appear solo performing a number of songs prophesying the future of art and technology, speak about her work and show her films. The foyer of the Festival Hall will also host her installation, Dancing in the Moonlight with her Wigwam Hair, which was on show at New York’s Guggenheim Museum last year.
This is the first time in more than a decade she has appeared on such a scale in the UK. The last time was back in 1982 when she had an exhibition at the ICA. It was accompanied by her chartbusting digital track, Superman, a kind of Kraftwerk meets the violin amalgam that was, in its shortest version, 12 minutes long.
It is also the first time in its five-year history that Meltdown has been programmed by an “artist”. Last year, composer Magnus Lindberg conducted the line-up, the year before that Elvis Costello was in the director’s chair. This year’s festival promises to be the largest yet, and it looks like Anderson has got all angles covered.
“There’s a huge range of performers, and all of them are really funny”, she concludes.
Meltdown runs from 30 May to 6 July at the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room. For booking and information tel: 0171 960 4242.