January 30, 2005, New York Times Magazine

Questions for Laurie Anderson and Ricky Seabra


Post-Lunarism vs.

The performance artists talk about their collaborations with NASA and the European Space Agency and what they love about space and what they hate about Broadway.


Did any of you want to be an astronaut when growing up?

Laurie: No. Although I could definitely imagine myself floating in space, I didn't want to become an astronaut. Driving those golf carts around on the moon seems a little geeky. Also, astronauts are constantly busy, and I didn't want to have that much to do.

Ricky: I never really imagined myself as an astronaut per se, just working in space. I thought that by the time I was a grown-up I'd be going to or working in space regularly;  designing space stations, giant solar panels the size of cities that would beam clean energy down to earth. I grew up watching Space 1999, Lost in Space, and 2001. Space for all was supposed to be happening by now.


Most other people see astronauts as figures of smoldering romance who rank right up there with cowboys and other American pioneers. Did you get to spend any time with astronauts?

Laurie: I met many astronauts, and they seem so out of place. They were given jobs around mission control, but they were living to be in space, and all their conversations were about the next time maybe they were going to go.

Ricky: I've lunched with a few astronauts. I found the Russian cosmonauts surprisingly soft spoken. I find it hard paying attention to them because I'm always too mind-boggled that their flesh, their body parts, hands, head, have all been in space. I don't romanticize them but there is one cosmonaut with whom I would like to get romantic.


Since you don't identify with astronauts, what moved you to spend time in space agencies?

Laurie: I like the scale of space. I like thinking about human beings and what worms we are. We are really worms and specks. I find a certain comfort in that.

Ricky: Worms? Come on Laurie, I think we are quite more fascinating than that. Scale means nothing to the human mind. We can embrace the universe and even build computer models of it. Hardly worm-like behavior. We are the size of our minds. I take comfort in that.


Laurie, you were NASA's first artist-in-residence and perhaps its last.

Ricky: Last? How defeatist! The space age has only just begun. OK. So we got Republicans in power and a space shuttle blew up. That does make things difficult for space exploration...

Laurie: I think there is a lot of animosity between Congress and NASA right now. I heard that someone in Congress was looking through the budget and the artist-in-residence program got scratched out.

Ricky: But only for the time being. There are a lot of artists' organizations working on building work relationships with space agencies. There is an artist-in-residence at the Ames Research Center as we speak. And artists have collaborated with space agencies in the past. Kistou Dubois, Frank Pietronigro, Arthur Woods, Paul Van Hooeydonk. They go as far back as the 70's through the 90's. I collaborated with Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace back in 2000.


And how large was your stipend at Daimler Chrysler Aerospace?

Ricky: 5000 Euros to explore Cultural Utilization of the International Space

Station. Essentially I put together a website about my ISADORA Module project.

And your government stipend?

Laurie: Twenty thousand dollars.


Not huge. Perhaps we should lobby for an artist-in-residence program at the White House.

Laurie: If I were visiting artist at the White House, I wouldn't try to make a work of art. I would just want to watch. I would want to know what the White House gym is like.

Ricky: And I'd watch your gym project from space as artist-in-residence on the ISS.


Whom is your art intended for?

Laurie: I think I do my work for some sadder version of myself, a woman who would be sitting in Row K. I am trying to make her laugh.

Ricky: That's sweet. I think I do my work for people who are at the cusp of becoming artists themselves. I'd like to know that I inspired the next Christo; some great artist in the future saying that when he or she was young they saw my work which inspired them to create a great oeuvre.

Laurie: That's sweet.


Although your shows are headed for, respectively, the hip Brooklyn Academy of Music next month and the controversial nOna Theater in Belgium next week (controversial becasue of a Porn Art Festival they organized in 2002), they relate to the fashion for one or two-person shows that are now flourishing on Broadway and overshadowing boisterous musicals.

Laurie: I have never seen more than four minutes of a Broadway musical. I went to see "Cats" and that is the closest I have ever come to a nervous breakdown.

Ricky: The amount of one-person shows might have to do with the increase of artists in the scene. Budgets get spread out and the most you can do with the money is a one-person show. But I made a choice for the one-person or duet format. I like focus. The content of these one-person shows is often political via the personal experience. One critic calls it New Social Theater. As for musicals, I saw Brigadoon when I was at Parsons. I remember being so high up that the chandelier was partially blocking my view.


What about the monologue, as currently practiced by Dame Edna or Billy Crystal?

Laurie: Billy Crystal is doing a monologue about his personal life. I have never really been an artist who is interested in self-expression or autobiography.

Ricky: Opposite.


Have any of you ever been psychoanalyzed?

Laurie: No. I started a couple of times, but then I had to leave for the airport.

Ricky: Yes, twice. And all I did was talk about airports.


At 57 do you worry about aging and wrinkles?

Laurie: Not really. I think some prunish people look pretty good. I am more worried about turning into a schlump than into a prune.

Ricky: I worry more about my ass sagging than anything else.


How would you define a schlump?

Laurie: A schlump is someone who doesn't care about anything and who is just protecting their own turf, which is getting smaller and more meaningless, and then they disappear.


Do you find this to be a schlumpy era compared with the 80s, when you were part of a creatively inspired New York art scene?

Laurie: I don't miss the 80's. I don't miss anything right now. I have zero time for nostalgia.

Ricky: Well, regarding the 80's I don' t miss a time when Reagan was getting away with everything. But nostalgia is a huge part of me. Without it we people of Portuguese extraction are nothing. "Saudade" is our middle name. And that's why I want to go into space: To miss Earth tremendously, dreadfully.

Deborah Salmon

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