I sit in the center of disparate systems with the intention of creating a sense of harmony in the overlap of my inner and outside worlds. While the tension of my real landscape takes its toll on me, I am committed to accessing creativity and resilience. Sure, I hear commuter traffic, school buses, and construction trucks through the walls of home on this busy road. But I also hear the sweet calls of wrens, cardinals, and sparrows. It is in the studio where I attempt to access my imagined landscape. My hands sort out the various inner world tensions with materials and transform them into something tangible, an art installation.

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Kris Lanzer, Dover Traffic Spiral, concrete, toy cars, resin, 15 x 15 ft., 2020, a view from looking out from the Garden of Sustenance, Dover, NH.

Visual stimulation isn’t the only sense at work when I observe the external world. I am also absorbing sensory information through my nose, ears, and skin. This process impacts my whole being—even my nervous system jump-starts a variety of circuits. I’m simultaneously connecting things like time, light, space, form, atmosphere, and movement. It feels natural for me to translate my full-body response with installation art, as it is an experiential art form. A roadside art installation called the Dover Traffic Spiral is the response to my sensory overload, an attempt to transform my perspective of a landscape full of traffic noise, blinking beacons, and energy flow. I have often wondered where all the cars come from and where are they going? Its concrete surface spans 15 feet and angles toward the road in the front garden. There are two swirls originating from a center marked by a reflective green traffic light lens. The dark gray swirl is topped with almost 250 toy cars embedded in resin. I call them my “carCobbles.” They’re laid out to appear to be driving into the center and then spiraling out. I troweled the surface of the other concrete swirl to look like a sidewalk. Its outermost perimeter is randomly sprinkled with stone bits to reference the jagged edges of spinning solar systems, vortices, and whirlpools. The “carCobbles” are traveling individually together on the cosmic spiral of life.

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Kris Lanzer, Considering The Space Between Road and Garden, repurposed metal, 90 ft., 2006, a view from the sidewalk, Dover, NH.

I approach the idea of a landscape with respect and awe. The landscape sustains me as an artist, gardener, and activist. I make this known, starting at home, at the place called the Garden of Sustenance. It is an urban-garden-art-environment. The garden shares an edge with the sidewalk, road, and in essence, the community, so it is both public and private, a place where multiple systems such as city operations, neighborhood, and the environment, blend and blur. It informs, inspires, and makes a statement. My vision encourages an alternative to the status quo. Repurposing used materials minimize the environmental impact of our consumerist culture. Whenever and wherever I have the opportunity to build an art installation, the idea of landscape as a generous resource is at the root of the project.

The urban landscape of my home is a place where an edge divides the city from nature, where flowers and vegetables meet concrete and tar. On one side, I feel resilient, and on the other, I feel vulnerable. As an artist, I believe it is my job to be a conduit for inspiration and creativity. I am aware its impact can unify and empower, so I create a visual that can lift me out of a conflicting emotional state. I built a fence to look like a blend of how the energy of traffic mixes with the seasonal cycles of the garden. I felt a momentum. I collected metal circles from the scrapyard to reference cycles of nature and the motion of vehicles. I named it: Considering the Space Between Road and Garden. For a few months, I wired the circles together to signposts. Neighbors and commuters saw the creative process in action and felt inspired to seek out their own metal circles to add to the collection. The personal art project sent out a ripple of shared enthusiasm. People in cars beeped when driving by. They still do.

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Kris Lanzer, From Here to There, From There to Here, Again, collage of personal papers, 40 x 30 in., 2015.

With a collage series called From Here to There, From There to Here, Again, I used a mapping process out of necessity. The landmarks and the spaces between them helped me to determine how to navigate through inner chaos. My life at the time was a mess. In the comfort of my studio, I pored through a collection of photos, drawings, personal papers, and selected photos of known destinations, familiar trees, roads, and power lines. I cut and tore them up and arranged them in a new order. The collage series became my landscape of memory, of what it was like as a daughter with a debilitating injury traveling back and forth to visit mom, somewhere with Alzheimer’s, while grieving the death of dad. I felt suspended and without gravity. I felt no sense of chronological order. For a while, time, place, and memory were lost in the abyss. Using images of landscapes gave me direction.

I wanted to observe what happens between the end of winter and the beginning of spring to help me clarify the transformative process of death and change. I wanted to know: what actually happens between the end and the beginning? The art installation took place in a ginkgo tree during the transition phase from April into May. I called it Winter Dies, Spring Emerges: Ginkgo Tree. The ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living species of trees on earth, a perfect example of longevity. Climbing up the trunk, I wove garlands through the bare winter branches, which referenced Tibetan prayer flags. However, mine was paper, painted black, and covered with black sand. They had been the pages of my own dream journals, a record of cosmic conversations. They blew in the wind, drooped in the rain, and faded in the sun while the bare branches of the ginkgo, covered with little nubs, sprouted green leaves of spring. I removed the faded “dream strings” and prepared a ceremonial burn. I took the process further and mixed the ashes with compost and then spread the fertile mixture in a circle on the ground below the ginkgo. I topped the circle with fallen flower petals that had been collected from the base of flowering fruit trees. I responded to what I had witnessed: the persistent, energetic cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

When I encounter something unexpected, I take notice. I revisit the feel of these “aha” moments to make art in an attempt to evoke something in the viewer. The Blue Spiral project at a public beach was made from a collection of bright blue plastic newspaper bags that I planted individually in sand divots. The blue spiral expanded out about 25 feet, and as the tide came in, waves animated the flaccid bags like levers closing and opening. Beach-goers gathered to express joy, scorn, and curiosity. Our lives, stories, and enthusiasm for that day were a shared experience. People interacting became volunteers to assist with the removal of blue bags from the sand and sea. Together we enjoyed conversations about Fibonacci, the environment, the tides, art, where people are visiting from, and what excites us about the sea. Their responses to the unexpected spiral at the beach renewed in me the power of art, curiosity, and inspiration.

I had set aside a collection of paper-based materials for the right landscape setting to bring closure to a decade-long process. The opportunity unexpectedly took place in a gallery. My plan was to create an art installation of an outdoor tidal zone in an inside space—to have the tidal zone encroach the viewing space; to have viewers encounter unidentifiable yet familiar organic forms; to include reflection, an important part of modifying perspective; to contemplate what had been abandoned by the sea after being pummeled in the turbulence of waves. These are the metaphors I borrowed to make tangible the process of transformation. To make this vision come alive, I covered the raised gallery floor with sand, stones, and seaweed that expanded over the edge and unexpectedly into the viewers’ space. I arranged my paper sculptures in groupings on the sand. The paper was repurposed and came from a collection of personal journals and sketchbooks. To alter their original shape and context, I sorted, shredded, and transformed the pages into gut-like pulp forms and papier mâché bivalves. This art installation was called It Was One Thing After Another, After Another. It could be viewed through the window that reflected the buildings from across the street and from inside the gallery when sunlight entered through the large window and made more reflections. The experience from this interior perspective appeared as if the inside tidal zone extended outdoors. The process continues as I am still reflecting on this recent art installation.

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Kris Lanzer, It Was One Thing After Another, After Another, personal journal pages, sand, stone, seaweed, light, reflection, 25 x 7 ft., 2022, UMVA Gallery, Portland, ME.

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Kris Lanzer, It Was One Thing After Another, After Another, personal journal pages, sand, stone, seaweed, light, reflection, 25 x 7 ft., 2022, UMVA Gallery, Portland, ME.


Image at top: Kris Lanzer, From Here to There, From There to Here, Again, collage of personal papers, 40 x 30 in., 2015.