Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog
by Vala Schriefer
Laura “Laurie” Anderson is a performance artist who celebrates and uses nearly all types of art media. She mixes robotic-like sound loops, electronic tones, and often monotone vocals in her unconventional music. Her songs appeal to many artists because of their experimental qualities. One of her most recognized performance pieces consisted of her standing on a New York City street corner wearing ice skates frozen in two blocks of ice. She played the violin until the ice blocks had completely melted. Anderson has sold out large venues where she has performed her music, told stories, recited poetry and projected her films and videos. Her films and music videos have been shown as art pieces in many museums. She also paints and draws.
One of her most popular records was “Big Science” which blends her gentle whisper-like voice, electronic beats, and sounds that can only be described as “soft howling.” Anderson jumps between verses of talking and singing. This musical mixture might be compared to the vocals of Lou Reed, who, evidently, was her husband. Laurie Anderson has always been very involved in the New York City art scene. She was close acquaintances with artists like Gordon Matta-Clark, Brian Eno and even lived next to Julian Schnabel.
Laurie Anderson has made a number of films, her most recent being “Heart of a Dog.” The film opens with Laurie Anderson’s calm voice introducing the viewer to her “dream body.” The opening is quite fitting, for the viewing experience feels like something out of a dream. The film might be described as “formless” due to its unexpected jumps between video clips, animation, blurry pictures, and unidentifiable shapes appearing over a black screen. However, one cannot help but be intrigued by the unfamiliar images that weave through the film.
In “Heart of a Dog,” Anderson talks extensively about the relationship she had with her rat terrier, Lolabelle. In the beginning, she tells a story of when Lolabelle was attacked by a large bird while the two of them were hiking. The bird had thought Lolabelle was some kind of prey. Anderson describes her dog looking around the sky, realizing there was a whole new view of the world to watch out for. Anderson goes on to compare this to the way the world reacted to the 9/11 attacks; people now had to consider danger from the sky.
Laurie Anderson spends most of the film reflecting on the life of her dog. She didn’t see Lolabelle as just a pet. In fact, she treated her as she would a human. When Lolabelle went blind, Anderson had her take piano lessons. Lolabelle came out with an album and even played in an animal rights fundraising concert. Anderson often quotes her yoga instructor, or rather their yoga instructor. Anderson might say, “Our yoga instructor told us…” or “Our meditation teacher told us…” Lolabelle was essentially her child, for Anderson never had any children of her own.
Throughout the film, Anderson begins examining the important deaths she has faced in her life. Over quickly fading, dream-like images, she recites Buddhists quotes from “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”, attempting to give meaning to each end of life. She briefly explores the death of her good friend, and fellow artist, Gordon Matta-Clark. Matta-Clark gathered a few friends (including Anderson) and read to them on his deathbed. Anderson delves into the death of her mother and briefly touches on the death of her husband.
Laurie Anderson gives her explanation for events that all humans must endure, in her film “Heart of a Dog”. She poetically displays her philosophical views on life, death, and everything in between through a string of well-told stories and curiously captivating scenes. “Heart of a Dog” exhibits a diverse range of emotions, delivering lighthearted quips while also addressing her deep and profound reasoning for hard-to-explain subject matter. Laurie Anderson has created a truly heartfelt film that leaves many viewers saying, “I’ve never thought of it that way before.”