New York

Laurie Anderson

Arguably the most spectacular cinematic dream sequence of all time, Salvador Dalí’s contribution to Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) featured a Surrealist stage set par excellence. Replete with a hallucinogenic landscape, it included morphing objects, a faceless man, and—above all—lots and lots of enormous, blinking, staring eyes. Dalí seems to contend that in dreams, despite—or perhaps because of—our eyes being closed, ocularity takes on a heightened, anxious role: We are able to see things normally deemed invisible or impossible. Most disturbingly, we often see ourselves, and thus occupy the roles of actor and audience simultaneously.

The particulars of this strange inner sight (which might be termed dream vision) propelled Laurie Anderson’s recent exhibition “The Waters Reglitterized.” Having spent months touring her solo performance The End of the Moon, Anderson found she was sleeping fitfully. While on the road, her dreams became increasingly vivid and violent, so she started to keep a log in an attempt to exert control over them. Jolting awake after an unwelcome visitation by headless squirrels or an existential foray into being and nothingness, Anderson would reach for her digital notepad. The results, dashed-off drawings and haikulike descriptions, culminated in Dream Book (all works 2005), a hand-bound collection of iris prints that reads with the obscene clarity of a schizophrenic’s diary.

Thumbing through this tome, visitors to Sean Kelly Gallery might have noticed the entry for April 17, 2005: “In a deserted hotel lobby a fox is pleading with a corpse. The fox is sobbing, ‘I loved you—I always loved you!’ I’m thinking, ‘You know, there’s something really fake about that fox.’ My brother stands in the doorway taking photographs.” One gets the feeling that Anderson is less interested in the fox’s ability to speak than in its unaccountable “fakeness”—an ersatz quality familiar to anyone who finds him or herself immersed in a dream’s hyperbolic terms. The readymade cinematicity of this scene made it a natural for translation into visual imagery and resulted in Anderson’s 4.17.05: The Fox, a nearly seamless video loop and a series of stills on translucent fabric.

With its lush colors and over-the-top dramatics, The Fox offers a painterly mise-en-scène. As dictated by the dream, a corpse lies in the middle of a heavily curtained room. The deceased—a woman swathed in white fabric and flanked by a pair of work boots—exerts a postmortem clutch on a bloody rag. Meanwhile, a suspicious-looking fox (suspicious-looking largely on account of its actually being a dog) anxiously circumnavigates the corpse, though never professing its love vocally. Indeed, the interest the animal takes in the corpse appears almost embarrassingly pragmatic: There is no concealing the fact that its frantic licking and burrowing is an attempt not to revive its master but to procure treats tucked by a trainer into her swaddling.

Anderson herself watches from the sideline, the back of her spiky-haired head filling the right-hand side of the screen. Her brother is shown taking pictures of the proceedings, the chemical hiss of his flash melding with Anderson’s musical score (a characteristic mix of voices, ambient sounds, and electronic and acoustic instrumentation). Despite the video’s careful Minimalist choreography, the pervading feeling is “fakeness”—the fake fox rustling around the fake corpse in a fake hotel lobby, all within the confines of a real dream that, once staged, itself becomes necessarily faked. Yet the simultaneous disappointment (a dream simply won’t translate into another medium and we’re all too aware of the tricks being used in this reconstruction) and deliciousness (we catch a fleeting taste of its evanescent essence anyway) effects that odd—and rare—sensation of having one’s eyes wide shut.

Johanna Burton