An #importedAsians POV: An Laurence Higgins — My life, my music
In her daring and confrontational artwork, An Laurence Higgins explores transnational identity as an adoptee of Chinese origin.
“My teacher once told me that I should not go into music because it’s a very hard life, and I was almost convinced that I was not going to lead my life as an artist,” says An Laurence Higgins, 安媛, from her flat in Montreal, Canada.
“I could give everything up tomorrow and very easily, do a degree in whatever, but to not be able to do Music would be very depressing,” says the Canadian musician, performance artist and guitarist.
An Laurence recalls the hesitation she had before deciding to pursue a degree in music: “I was never afraid of not being able to see what to do with my life. So, it was always in my mindset that if music doesn’t work out then I just do something else.”
“I was not very confident about my skills. And, in Quebec, it was pretty affordable to just reorientate yourself.”
However, when she started to play music when she was 12, she found a love for it. “I always was a very introspective person even as a child and I feel like music was really helping me to cope with loneliness and not being able to connect so much with a lot of people around me. I was able to really dive into the music I was listening to.”
She also describes how she started to play guitar because she wanted to play “electric bass in rock bands.”
Now, An Laurence is a specialist in new and experimental music whose works often address human relationships, memory and transnational identity. She says, “New music is a dissonant branch of classical music, of contemporary music. In the 20th century, there were a lot of experiments around classical music as a performance, in visual art or some other form.”
For An Laurence, sometimes she uses visuals or electronics to make different narratives of music. She tells me she also likes to collaborate with other artists. “I like to enter into the dialogue with other artists and to find common points that we share, that we can recognise ourselves in,” she says.
As a Chinese adoptee, she was brought to Canada by a French-Canadian couple when she was very young. Her transnational identity has since played a significant part in her works.
In 2018, she created a multimedia installation “Confidences en trois temps” and in 2021, the interactive performance “Approchez, je vous raconterai ce que j’ai oublié/Come Closer, I’ll tell you what I forgot.”
In “Come Closer, I’ll tell you what I forgot,” which is the latest performative installation that An Laurence has done, she shared monologues about her birth, her mother’s struggles due to China’s birth planning policy, and how she was finally given up by her mother due to pressure from her in-laws to have a son.
An Laurence remembers the disconnection she had when producing this piece: “It was a question I had when I started working on it as I had already been doing research on it for about a year and a half talking about adoption. But it was not really associated with the story of adoption, I felt that there was a strong disconnection between when I was talking about my own adoption or just adoption in general; I felt I was talking about something else.” She added: “There was no music in the performance because I didn’t feel like any music would belong there.”
An Laurence also recounts the struggles she had in telling a personal story she had no traces of. “When I started working on this project, my research project question was ‘how can we or how can I relate to a story that I don’t remember, that I don’t have traces of?'"
“And I had no idea how to answer this question.”
After reading a book in which real accounts of adoption were documented, An Laurence suddenly felt a connection. “When I was reading them, it was, for me, really, really strong, because it was the first time I ever felt a feeling of belonging. Before, my birth parents were just concepts; they were not really people in my mind.”
When she read the stories about other people who were adopted just like her, An Laurence felt that her birth and her birth parents were real. “It could not have happened any other way. When I was reading them, I kind of found an answer.”
Therefore, in this multimedia piece "Come Closer, let me tell you what I forgot," An Laurence depicted a very original story behind its very interactive components. “I wanted also to create a relationship with the public, and also I was a bit confrontational.” If it wasn’t for COVID-19 where social distancing must be followed, An Laurence says she would have invited people to come into a space and sit around a table. She says: “Every time a person would sit in front of me, I would start telling this story of adoption. It would be a different story every time a different person sits.
“So, all of those stories are adapted from stories I’ve read from the books. And the idea there is that I’m not telling my personal story but I’m embodying the room, a collective narrative that belongs to all of us.”
Now, as an avid collaborator, An Laurence collaborates with artists of various disciplines, and thrives in settings that stretch the limits of traditional music performance. Her performance style ranges from contemporary classical to electronic music, as well as spoken works and sung performances.
An Laurence along with Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance have also launched a collaborative zine UP CLOSE, detailing their creative processes that led to the creation of their works “Come Closer, I’ll tell you what I forgot” (An Laurence) and “From China, To Canada” (Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance). You can read more about how to get a copy here.