Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Art of Disaster - An Interview with Klare Lanson

The Art of Disaster - an interview with Klare Lanson
Simmone Howell

More than halfway up the wall of Klare Lanson’s hallway she’s drawn a horizontal line and the words, THIS IS THE FLOODLINE. “I put it there for tradies. Their first question is always How high did the water come?” Lanson says with a wry laugh. We’re having cups of tea on her porch to the dulcet sounds of Auskick. In the distance is leafy, tree-lined Barker’s Creek. It’s small, as creeks go, but looks can be deceptive. In 2011, during four days of unreasonable rain, the drains collapsed and Barker’s Creek finally overflowed, transforming the football field and the lower section of the street into a muddy lake. Klare Lanson was at home with her young son, moving from anxiety to fear as the rain kept coming. They survived the flood physically, but the emotional repercussions have been profound. 
What is art for, if not to save us from despair? Post-flood recovery, Lanson began to think about how she could re-imagine her experience in a creative context. This thinking, and her subsequent experiments in sound, poetry and location media practice have culminated in #wanderingcloud, one of the local highlights of this year’s Castlemaine State Festival. 
Lanson has been a sound artist and performance poet for over twenty years. She explores connections between humanity and technology, and her practice is deeply connected to her environment. In the early noughties she made a tree-change from Melbourne to Castlemaine: 
“I couldn't find anywhere in Melbourne to rent that was affordable and conducive to bringing up a child. If I'm going to live in a city I want to live in the city - I have a bit of a fear of outer suburbia and the impact it would have on my son's upbringing. Too much Bertrand Russell perhaps. I was looking for a place that values the same things I do. Friends. Space. Small schools.” 
Lanson was settled by the time of the flood, but her experience of country life is now divided into before and after. In the first wave of interviews she undertook for #wanderingcloud, the mark on the wall became something else again: “The first thing people wanted to do was show me their floodlines: immediate connection.”
Lanson’s first post-flood production was The Cloud Mistress in 2012. The work incorporated a soundscape using field recordings, the artist responding to a radio interview, audience storytelling and excerpts from an 1897 letter in The Argus regarding a Castlemaine flood. Over the personal experience was layered a community’s experience, a sense of place and history, the small ‘i’ of the artist in the storm of the world.
#wanderingcloud had its first life in 2013 at Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal. The project grew to incorporate the communities around it. The artist interviewed people from satellite towns about their flood memories: “The interview process was incredible and very rewarding. Most of the interviewees were happy to talk about their flood experiences, especially when they understood that I too was devastated by the 2011 flood event. The like mindedness, the stories they shared, the different (sometimes indifferent) experiences I recorded, led me on an amazing journey of sound recordings and imagery. The need for silence in the aftermath was also there, sometimes a voice in itself.”
#wanderingcloud is local and locative, it explores the collective experience of communities who have been through a traumatic event.
“There was so much sadness and anger. It was a huge challenge as an artist to find the beauty within. I am thankful of my time spent with all the people who shared their stories, there wouldn't be a #wanderingcloud project without them.”
The cloud is building. The upcoming performance at Castlemaine’s Woollen Mills includes artists from near (Neil Boyack, Jacques Soddell and Andree Cozens) and far (Brisbane based Clocked Out Duo). There is a collaborative site installation by designer Zoe Volpato and performance art by Kathrin Ward. The site itself has endured its own share of disaster - three fires have been noted in its history. It’s located alongside Barker’s Creek, like a cosmic wink to the cyclical nature of life.
Lanson cites as her inspiration “artists who understand working across platforms, whose work is based on spoken word and who move across mediums.” Miranda July, Bjork and Laurie Anderson, as well as artists and academics working in the field of location media practice like Larissa Hjorth. 
“I was affected by a Richard Long exhibition in London in the early 90s, whose meditative sculptural walks all over the world are seminal. I sometimes think of those itinerant poets in the Renaissance era who preceded performance art, roaming and wandering about trying to make a living.”
The timing of the project is fortuitous. The draft of the flood management plan for Castlemaine has just been made available for public comment. A levee wall is proposed for Barker’s Creek and Lanson expects community input to be considerable. “There are questions about engineering and aesthetic inconsistencies that need to be answered. I’ve been involved in a few projects that are timed with broader community issues. The process involved in creative practice is seminal during any kind of development of people and place. Art is change.” 
But for now, the creek trickles on unguarded, clouds drift in the blue sky, the footy horn sounds and kid’s feet clomp on the green.

I’m still thinking about the floodline. Lanson’s graffito is also symbolic: as a reminder of the capriciousness of Mother Nature, a warning not to get too comfortable. It’s a mark of endurance, a record, like a child’s height charted on the side of the door, and it’s a story that rings with the echoes of stories past.

#wanderingcloud is performed from March 19-21 at the Castlemaine State Festival 2015

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