Experimental artist and musician Laurie Anderson took the helm as Guest Director in 2016 as Brighton Festival celebrated its milestone 50th year of of commissioning and producing innovative arts and culture by exploring the theme of ‘home and place’ across the programme.
Renowned for her inventive use of technology - from her 1981 hit O Superman to her appointment as NASA’s first artist-in-residence - Anderson is one of America’s most daring creative pioneers. In roles as varied as artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, vocalist and instrumentalist, she has been experimenting, creating and challenging audiences all over the world for almost as long as Brighton Festival has existed.
Drawing inspiration from Brighton Festival’s origins as a celebration of the new and the avant-garde, as well as Anderson’s own multidisciplinary career, the 2016 programme featured the highest number of commissions, co-commissions, exclusives and premieres to date, by some of the most innovative national and international artists the world over – from choreographer and dancer Akram Khan’s new full-length production Until The Lions to the world premiere of a global collaborative work by Turner Prize-winning British artist Gillian Wearing.
Anderson’s own events included the UK premiere of her unique Music for Dogs, a concert specially designed for the canine ear; a screening of her acclaimed new film Heart of a Dog, described by Anderson herself as: ‘full of stories about how you make a story . . . nominally a film about me and my dog but really it’s not, it’s about love and language’; an exclusive new performance monologue about place and places called Slideshow; a freewheeling walk through sonic spaces with fellow musician-composers, pianist Nik Bärtsch and guitarist Eivind Aarset; and the UK premiere of Lou Reed Drones, an installation of her late husband’s guitars and amps in feedback mode which she describes as ‘kind of as close to Lou’s music as we can get these days’.
With a total audience reach of over 225,000, the milestone programme was the most successful in its history with more people engaging with the festival, both as audiences and participants, and more tickets sold than ever before. The Festival’s biggest talking point was Nutkhut’s Dr Blighty, an ambitious, large-scale, immersive, outdoor experience co-commissioned in partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums and 14-18 NOW, which highlighted the story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during WW1. Ending each night with a spectacular light display using projection-mapping, Dr Blighty set the city and social media abuzz and drew audiences of almost 65,000 over its five day run.
Laurie Anderson said: "I'm so happy to have served as Guest Director of Brighton Festival in its historic 50th year. I have been at the Brighton Festival a few times now and it’s always been fun. I always feel like I’m part of the town and that’s a crazy feeling because at many festivals maybe only theatre people come…. but here everybody comes. I was really struck by that. So when I was asked to be Guest Director I wanted to make sure that this was especially happening for the 50th Festival - that it was even more inclusive – so that was part of why this idea of the theme of home and place came in. I think Brighton is really a one-of-a-kind festival. First of all because it’s very sophisticated in terms of what experimental art it brings in but it’s very inclusive in other ways. I can’t really think of another festival that has that broad a base so I would have to say it’s unique.”
Photo © Tom Oldham