Laurie Anderson, Night Court, 100 Centre Street, 29 December 1972, 10:30pm-1am and South Street Seaport, The “Lettie G. Howard” starboard berth, 10 December 1972, 11am­­–2pm from Institutional Dream series, 1972–73

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Laurie Anderson is one of the pioneers of the “Downtown” scene in New York City, known for its cutting-edge experimentation and boundary-breaking mixing of artistic media and presentation platforms. In describing her creative cohort, Anderson wrote that, “New York in the early ‘70s was Paris in the ‘20s. I was part of a group of artist/pioneers that included Gordon Matta-Clark, Gene Highstein (sic), Susie Harris, Tina Girouard, Richard Nonas, Dickie Landry, Phil Glass, Keith Sonnier and several other sculptors and musicians. We often worked on each others’ pieces and boundaries between art forms were loose… We were very aware that we were creating an entirely new scene (later known as ‘Downtown’).” Anderson’s projection performances and experimental electronic music made her one of the best-known artists to come out of this scene and established her expansive, decades-long career.

One of Anderson’s earliest series, Institutional Dreams, took place across New York City, including at 100 Centre Street and the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. For this series, Anderson would sleep in public sites, from Columbia University to Coney Island, as an experiment in gauging “if the place can color or control my dreams.” At the night court of 100 Centre Street, Anderson slept in one of the pews and was photographed doing so by her friend Geraldine Pontius. Her handwritten note that accompanies the slouched, sleeping portrait reads, “…The first case is Robbery and Assault. The courtroom is noisy and full of people. I rest my head against a wall running the length of the room. I drift off slowly. I have the impression that dark shadows or clouds are scudding through the courtroom just below the ceiling.” Anderson notes that her dreamscape was influenced by her peaked knit cap, which alternately obscured and shown the courtroom’s light onto her face; her impressions distinctly affected by the environment in which she positioned herself. At the South Street Seaport, her recollection reads, “I lie down in a starboard berth and dream about a bright white desert.” Here, Anderson’s dream evokes an oasis of warmth despite her waterfront, December location. Anderson’s rather routine dream descriptions for Institutional Dreams have a resonant charge in their specific connection to impressions of place and the way they distinctly frame her memories and sensations, on both a conscious and subconscious level. Similar references to dreaming and dream states continue throughout Anderson’s work, in both her song lyrics and performances.

Anderson also exhibited and performed frequently throughout her early career at the downtown exhibition venue Artists Space, then located at 155 Wooster Street. Artists Space presented her debut NYC show O-Range in 1973, for which she was chosen by downtown fixture Vito Acconci for the Artists Select Artists series. For the exhibition, she showed works that paired text and photography in the conceptual style-du-jour with tongue-in-cheek plays on language and food. At Artists Space, Anderson also presented her “first full-fledged performance,” As:If, 1974, featuring violins, voice filters and projections, all of which became touchstones throughout her career. While Anderson has maintained a commitment to the downtown ethos up to the present day, her incredibly productive participation in the “Downtown” scene throughout the early 1970s truly set the stage for her ascension—through large-scale one-woman performances as well as robust cross-disciplinary collaborations—to great international acclaim.

 

Image Credits (in order of appearance):

Laurie Anderson
Institutional Dream series (Night Court), 1972-1973
Photo by Geraldine Pontius

Laurie Anderson
Institutional Dream series (South Street Seaport), 1972-1973
Photo by Geraldine Pontius

Laurie Anderson
Institutional Dream series (Women’s Bathroom), 1972-1973
Photo by Geraldine Pontius

Laurie Anderson
Institutional Dream series (Coney Island), 1972-1973
Photo by Geraldine Pontius