While a sculpture of a violin may not seem radical, one made from mud, clay and ashes — that is, the ashes of the artist’s beloved rat terrier Lolabelle — is unexpected. It is also a fitting embodiment of Laurie Anderson’s multidimensional practice and one of 20 works representing her varied and visionary career at East Hampton’s Guild Hall in her first full-scale exhibition on Long Island.
Trained as a sculptor and classical musician, Anderson, 70, moves seamlessly between the two worlds, not to mention the worlds of performance, painting, film, literature and technology.
Her 1981 song “O Superman” reached No. 2 on the British singles charts. She played a symphony on automobile horns, was NASA’s first artist-in-residence, helped to create the 2004 opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Athens, performed with Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei using Skype, illustrated children’s books, wrote her own books (including the just-published “All the Things I Lost in the Flood”), composed soundtracks for Spalding Gray films, hosted a PBS series, voice acted in “The Rugrats Movie,” wrote for the Encyclopedia Britannica, invented several musical instruments and collaborated with, among other counterculture figures, Robert Wilson, Peter Gabriel, Philip Glass and Freeport-raised Lou Reed, whom she married in 2008.
“It is a chance for the community to experience a tiny bit of what she has done,” says the show’s curator Christina Strassfield of the pioneering artist, who resides in East Hampton when she’s not living and working in her loft on Canal Street in Manhattan. “For some it will be an introduction, and others will say, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know she did that.’”
Regardless of the medium, Anderson sees herself as a storyteller, one largely consumed with the effects of language and high-tech developments on human relationships. In the Guild Hall exhibition, visitors experience a sampling of her transportive narratives in video performance, drawings and virtual reality.
Her mastery of sound and visuals are evidenced here in recent films such as “Heart of A Dog,” a meditation on loss and love, and the 1986 music documentary “Home of the Brave.” The section also includes six public-service announcements on eclectic topics, from the national debt to jerry-rigging.
Another gallery contains 11-by-14-foot charcoal drawings from Anderson’s series “Lolabelle in the Bardo,” depicting what she imagines as her cherished dog’s passage through the place Buddhists believe living things go before reincarnation.
The show’s final room is dedicated to two of Anderson’s recent experiments in virtual reality, for which potential viewers are required to preregister through Guild Hall’s website. Both works — “Chalkroom” and “Aloft” — are collaborations with Hsin-Chien Huang. When the new-media creator approached Anderson about the projects, she initially declined, dismissing the technology as a game. “I said if I can make it very homemade, dark, weird, shadowy, sort of a different kind of space, mental space,” she reveals in a video interview, “then I would be interested.”
“Chalkroom,” a winner at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, takes the viewer on a journey through unfolding stories. “No one will find them all, never. They are hidden in very, very weird places,” she explains. “Sometimes letters float toward you like snow to define space . . . You see a tree and fly down and you realize things are made of words. But mainly you can fly. That was my main inspiration — like in your dreams.”
WHEN | WHERE June 2-July 22, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Monday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday (noon-5 p.m. daily starting July 5), Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton
INFO Free; 631-324-0806, guildhall.org