The Fabric Workshop and Museum is one of Philadelphia’s many under-appreciated treasures. Founded in 1977, it has brought many distinguished artists to Philadelphia to create art with their staff and students. The artists work in editions and leave behind a piece of art that, over the decades, has become an amazing record of contemporary art. In addition, they sponsor exhibits from some of the most creative artists working today.
Currently FWM is showing Laurie Anderson: Forty-Nine Days in the Bardo, a multi-part installation that explores love and loss, inspired by the death of Anderson’s dog Lolabelle. Anderson has executed 10 large (10’ 4” x 14’ 4”) charcoal drawings exploring the transition from death to rebirth described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There is also an 8′ x 14′ image of Lola in the night sky, executed in aluminum foil with pin holes illuminated from behind. Anderson has also mixed Lolabelle’s ashes with mud and clay to fashion a ceramic violin.
In less capable hands, this would be maudlin and too cute to bother with, but Laurie Anderson is a deep thinker. This meditation on life and death raises profound issues that are part of the human condition. In some ways it must be easier to discuss them when a pet is the focus. It is hard to imagine her dealing with the loss of a parent or spouse in such a public way. Lolabelle was her part of her life for 12 years. Her loss triggered an exploration of what happens to the body and to the soul after we are gone. After seeing this show, I know Lolabelle must have been one hell of a great dog.