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Laurie Anderson screams in Jerusalem, but has nothing to say about Gaza

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“On the spectrum between the poetic and the political”– so wrote music critic Avi Pitchon on Laurie Anderson’s performance at the Israel Festival [May 29]. Indeed, Anderson began her first conversation with us, her Israeli audience, with THE political topic, the US Presidential elections. She described Yoko Ono’s response to Trump’s victory on social media – a one minute scream “which is not conceptual art but simply a scream out of hell.”

And then, at around the sixth minute of her performance, Anderson clarified the political-poetic spectrum on which she was leading us: She asked the audience to think of the worst things happening in the world – Donald Trump, North Korea, the melting icebergs, US school shootings, any shooting on any border, as well as the messed-up things in our own lives – and scream together, for ten seconds.

That was it. The words “any shooting on any border”, an inkling of a hint and a hint of a nod – that was the performance giant’s sole site-specific reference.

I sat there hoping she would somehow use this stage, somewhere on the sea of her charismatic anecdotes, inside the thicket of verbal-musical-kinetic virtuosity. I hoped she would really talk to us. Alas, this did not happen.

Anderson is an intelligent and nuanced artist and performer. Her career is full of works that tackle questions of power, gender and change. That night she asked again and again throughout her performance how and to what extent should art be political. She praised disobedience, the disruption of order via art, and at times she almost called for a revolution. But at the same time, Anderson exemplified this disobedience with insinuations which did not – heaven forbid – upset anyone. She merely made everyone in her imagined community feel warm and fuzzy. The political art manifested in Anderson’s words was an art which may label itself as ‘liberal’ or even ‘leftist’, but does not imbue this label with real substance. Anderson’s performance lamented reality, and glorified itself, without taking risks and without demanding a change.

And we, “the secular audience who flocked to Jerusalem”, in Pitchon’s words, received her compliments with rounds of applause. Not a single person disrupted the order and stood up to ask “What about Gaza? What about the wall at the heart of this city? What about the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel”?

It’s not that I think Laurie Anderson has anything new to tell us about these things. It’s not that I think she could have brought about a change in a flash visit of an hour and a half, within the long history of this space. But this is precisely the automatic response by every political artist who is willing to play in Israel, against the call for a cultural boycott.

“If not hearing my voice is stronger than hearing it, this says something unfortunate about my art”, South African artist William Kentridge once told me at a Q&A session in a Berlin museum, when I asked him why he had agreed to exhibit his works in Israel. And now, just weeks after Israeli snipers killed more than 60 men, women and youths who protested against the transfer of the embassy of Laurie Anderson’s country to the city in which she was performing – as part of the “70 Years of Israel” festival – the scream which Laurie Anderson created with us seems like the most silent scream one could imagine.

This piece first appeared in Haaretz, in Hebrew. It was translated by Ofer Neiman and appears here with the permission of the author and Haaretz.

Uri Agnon

Uri Agnon is an Israeli musician and activist.

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16 Responses

  1. annie on June 13, 2018, 1:04 pm

    laurie anderson is a scab

    • gamal on June 13, 2018, 3:05 pm

      “laurie anderson is a scab”

      she is…you remember when one young Bonaparte went to South Africa to observe the Zulu war and he got too close and some Zulus killed him…with edged weapons… oh superman…laurie is a scab too true.

    • Rusty Pipes on June 14, 2018, 3:33 am

      oh, super scab — ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha

    • Misterioso on June 14, 2018, 9:39 am

      @Annie Robbins

      Laurie Anderson is a “scab” and also desperate for gigs.
      She is also a wanker musician.

  2. Kay24 on June 13, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Laurie like so many others like her, has amnesia, and is in denial, when it comes to the occupation, and the Palestinians.

    They have to keep justifying the zionists crimes, by blocking out Gaza in their little minds.

  3. Ossinev on June 13, 2018, 2:02 pm

    “laurie Anderson is a scab”.
    A callous self important scab to boot who appears to have abandoned her earlier pretensions to be a human rights campaigner when it comes to Palestine:
    “When love is gone, there’s always justice. And when justice is gone, there’s always force”

    “Recent revelations of pervasive data collection by the National Security Agency presented an opportunity for Ms. Anderson, whose multimedia work has pondered technology, travel, science, communication and the meaning of America. Over a funky beat from her band, she named Mr. Manning, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and Edward J. Snowden, the former C.I.A. worker, intelligence contractor and admitted source of the latest revelations, adding, “Let’s hear it for the whistle-blowers!” for easy applause.

    “What’s going on in America?” she intoned. “What’s happening here? What war is this? What time is it? Greetings to the motherland.” Later, she summarized “The Birds,” the Aristophanes comedy, comparing the walls in its plot to walls between Palestine and Israel and the United States and Mexico, calling them “complicated.”

    NB Concentration camp and Apartheid Walls are “complicated” in Ms Anderson`s new universe !

  4. chris_k on June 13, 2018, 2:34 pm

    And Sharkey says:
    I turn around, it’s fear
    I turn around again And it’s love
    Oh yeah. Strange dreams
    And the little girls sing: Oooeee Sharkey

  5. edwardm on June 13, 2018, 9:12 pm

    Every man, everyman for himself.
    All in favor, just say “I”.

  6. rhkroell on June 14, 2018, 12:50 am

    “Birds is Aristophanes’ most fantastical play, but its escapist mood possibly echoes the dramatist’s sense of Athens’s impending decline.”

  7. chris_k on June 14, 2018, 2:35 am

    also the idea and lyrics for “Sweaters” is stolen, uncredited, from La Chinoise by Jean-Luc Godard who doesn’t mince words about the region like his imitators. And the answer to the question in “White Lily” is Berlin Alexanderplatz. Not exactly sure what this has to do with The War of Ideas in the Middle East, but..

  8. Kathleen on June 14, 2018, 10:23 am

    Laurie pretends to be aware of human suffering while she swims in a red sea of death and denial. Clearly trying to save her$elf.

  9. on June 14, 2018, 10:30 am

    I knew nothing about Laurie Anderson and will likely never think of her again but i have come to learn that she’s been described in the press as avant garde. Perhaps it is avant garde these days for an artist to tacitly support occupation, apartheid and genocide. Perhaps there’s a sub culture within the art world, a movement of sorts that sees art that promotes the status quo as being innovative and experimental – gone are the days when artists questioned the systems and world around them, pushed boundaries, celebrated commonalities, no, today’s avant garde artists are meek, amenable, self interested, risk averse and uncreative.

    Anderson likely listened to Radiohead on her way to the performance, read Joy Harjo on her way to the hotel and watched an episode or two of Fouda before bed – all members of her avant garde family of artists.

    Wish there was a Milli Vanilli award that could be handed out to all these posers lip syncing their support for humanity while cozying up to genocide.

  10. Misterioso on June 14, 2018, 11:21 am

    For the record:

    “UN votes to condemn Israel for excessive use of force in Gaza” June 14/18

    “The U.N. General Assembly condemned Israel on Wednesday for excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians and asked U.N. chief Antonio Guterres to recommend an ‘international protection mechanism’ for occupied Palestinian territory.

    “The General Assembly adopted a resolution with 120 votes in favor, eight against and 45 abstentions. It was put forward in the General Assembly by Algeria, Turkey and the Palestinians after the United States vetoed a similar resolution in the 15-member U.N. Security Council earlier this month.”

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