What's going to happen when Laurie Anderson dies? What will her retrospective be? A gallery show of her installation work? Will her children's book go back into print? What will her legacy be? Most likely a cd-boxed set, maybe with a DVD. There might be a documentary, but probably not for a few years. Further, why was she hailed as a pioneer of Performance Art, and how will her retrospective address this tenuous title? Musical performance with visual projections are not anything new, and weren't new when Anderson mounted her United States opera. Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable utilized much of the same technology, and was consciously not labeled 'Performance Art'. Will "multimedia performance" ever be anything other than performing in front of a projected image? This prompts some other questions for me. What role does/could/should technology have in Performance, and how is it employed there? Can performance utilize technology without this specific language of movie screenings? Granted, Anderson may not be the consummate Performance Artist to base my inquiry on, but she serves as a good entry point. Her genre-defining talk-singing is has been influential across many contemporary practitioners. San Francisco performance artist Pamela Z, whose work uses extensive technology, serves as a wonderful example here. While she is not as concerned with the Andersonian "multimedia" of light shows and visual non-representation, Pamela Z's work draws from the same aesthetic corpus as Anderson (the near-robotic body).
While Performance Art can be seen as drawing from 1970s conceptual and Body Art, technology's emergent collaborative role traces a much different lineage. Technology seems almost irrelevant in the execution of the movement's most seminal pieces. On closer examination, however, this machinery is central. How else but with an elaborate stereo sound system would viewers at the Sonnabend gallery of take part in the "intimate experience" Vito Acconci's 1972 Seedbed? The "cinema" indicted in Valie Export's work is similarly tied to technology. The obvious issue of documentation comes to mind. Many "classic" Performance Art pieces live on in decontextualized photographs, rumors, or gritty films. With her 2005 Seven Easy Pieces, Marina Abramovic reprised some of these classic pieces under the careful watch of video cameras. While Abramovic asks questions of Performance Art practice and the 're-do' on many levels, her performances raise new questions. What does it mean that the definitive documentation of Seedbed is Abramovic's? Technology is and has been present in Performance art from the beginning, and yet it is regarded as either central to the aesthetic (in Anderson's neon and magnetic tape violins) or otherwise merely obliquely functional (as in performance documentation).
As Abramovic and other seminal Performance Artists of the 1970s are either canonized beyond discourse, dying, or working with other mediums, a huge space opens up. Is there, as Abramovic's recent Seven Easy Pieces seems to suggest, a "way" to do performance art? If so, what is that way? And furthermore, what machinery will be necessary to do these performances, and relay them to others? Just what role does technology have in contemporary performance work? While much of Abramovic's 1970s work was performed 'analog', without aid of machinery (even, occasionally and unfortunately, in documentation), her recent performances under the scrutiny of video cameras (digital, no less) changes the pieces themselves. I'm curious about the history of technology's influence in performance. If, as Abramovic seems to imply, we are entering the age of the 're-do', then documentation and technology are paramount to the study and cataloging of performances. If Laurie Anderson's NASA residency can teach us anything, it is that technology can be not only the form, but the subject of performance simply because of its omnipresence.