For four decades, Laurie Anderson's multimedia performances have utilized special effects to dissolve boundaries between the live and the mediatized, between perception and reality, and between the human and the inhuman. Technological interactions transform her storytelling spectacles from monologues into dialogues; "I" easily becomes "we" through the introduction of composited duplicates or electronic prostheses. This excerpt from “What You Mean We” (1987) originally aired on PBS television’s Alive from Off Center, a series that featured weekly installments of short experimental films. Here Anderson costars with one of her alter egos, a video clone, to reflect on cinematic simulations of “reality.”
Subverting the clichéd claim “the camera never lies” with the assertion “the camera is a great liar,” Anderson's clone draws a curious parallel between contemporary photographic special effects and an earlier 20th century cinema of attractions. The clone cites the famous Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin, a scene in which Sergei Eisenstein’s dialectical montage synthesizes events that have never occurred (“lies”) upon the colossal staircase in Odessa. The clone points out that Potemkin has convinced scores of spectators of the massacre's historical authenticity--despite the fact that it never took place at this or any other Ukranian landmark.1
Since the artist's clone delivers this monologue as a technologically altered and composited image, this sequence offers an ironic, reflexive meditation on special effects. The clone is a botched techno-genetic replica of Anderson; its distorted speech is a manifestation of the “voice drag” the artist dons to transform into other alter egos (especially her “Fenway Bergamot”). This hypermediatized masculine register represents what Anderson refers to as the "voice of authority" in a world "commandeered by technology."2 This convention, with the anecdotal metacinematic commentary offered by this clip, illustrates how emergent technologies continually propel us toward a postgendered future that is cyborg-like, fluid, indefinable. Anderson’s dialoguing double suggests the power of technology to both connect and disconnect individuals from the societies of “special effects” in which we have come to exist.
1 Ironically, the Odessa Steps themselves were constructed to produce an optical illusion.
2 Roselee Goldberg, Laurie Anderson (New York: Henry N. Abrams, 2000), 13.