As the minutes ticked away past midnight on January 1, 2000, a sense of calm and joy sunk in over the world. The superstructures of the world avoided any Y2K insanity, and the symbolic turning of the page on a new millennium became something to simply celebrate.
The world has never been as confident since. Disasters both man-made and natural have befallen the planet with alarming regularity. And our socioeconomic foundations have received untold number of rabbit punches. As a planet, we are—in one way or another—reeling.
Not surprisingly, we are seeing this reflected back on us through the work of the world's artists. This has been brought to bear again and again during this year's TBA Festival, but was focused most sharply by the renowned figures that closed out the 2012 edition of the event.
And these expressions of the eggshell walk that us humans are on came via artists whose respective places of origin have, over the past 11 years, been torn asunder by upheavals and devastation, and slowly repaired by the creation of unlikely communities.
For poet Gozu Yoshimasu and sound artist Otomo Yoshihide—who collaborated as part of Voices and Echoes, a concert curated by Aki Onda—these issues provided the subtext for their noisy and beautiful work. Especially as Gozu read a poem that repeatedly brought up the image of a castle in the sky covered in snow, suddenly infused with a splash of red.
Read into it what you will, but I kept coming back to their pair's home country of Japan, an island that was built back more strongly and securely after being slapped into submission by a pair of nuclear bombs, only to feel the sting once again via the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The piece was a clashing of the modern and ancient world as well. The latter evoked by the natural noises made by Gozu (he moved between reading, rustling paper, and continuing work on a huge piece of art made by methodically pounding images into a long thin piece of metal) and the decidedly unnatural racket that Otomo wrenched out of his guitar and a modified turntable. The noise was almost hard to bear, but the deeply wrought emotion at the core of the piece made even the loudest moments palatable.
Laurie Anderson, on the other hand, tackled all of the above concerns head on, albeit through wry, poetic, and circular storytelling that has marked the best of her stage work. So, the frailty of our superstructures was called up as a reflection of our own personal fragilities. The demise of our financial backbone and our civil liberties and our environment becomes a stark reminder of our eventual personal demise.
Anderson's approach with Dirtday! was much more scattershot as well, with fragments of storylines connecting at odd angles and unexpected intervals. The through line between her opening discussion of evolution to her visit to a New Jersey tent city populated by recently unemployed families to the death of her beloved rat terrier Lolabell was at times thin.
The 63-year-old artist never lost sight of that thread however, even when she veered far off its path for long instrumental passages driven by processed beats and her electric violin. Nor did she dare try to drum up any pat answers or potential solutions to what is ailing our individual and collective heart.
Dirtday! served as a reminder of our continuing journey as people and a species. Anderson returned a few times to the image of something spinning: the records in a jukebox, our planet. She wanted us to feel in our bones this notion that life was going to continue on long after we have expired. And with that forefront in our mind, we'd do well to both celebrate our frailty while also doing what we can to hold each other up in trying times.