Lara Kramer: 'Here's an opportunity to present a reality that the public cannot look away from'

This article is from 2019

Lara Kramer: 'Here's an opportunity to present a reality that the public cannot look away from'

credit: Stefan Petersen

Multi-disciplinary artist shares how her Indigenous Contemporary Scene programme works explore the past, present and future

'There's just so much life that happened between the three pieces,' marvels Lara Kramer. A multi-disciplinary artist of mixed Oji-Cree and settler heritage, Kramer is expressing a vestigial measure of surprise at the works she's bringing to the Fringe this year: Native Girl Syndrome, a theatrical piece inspired by her grandmother, a survivor of Canada's catastrophic residential school system; the performance-based installation This Time Will Be Different; and Miijin Ki, her most recent work, performed as a scratch night.

These works, despite their disparate styles, will run together as a chronological progression of past, present and future, staged in intervals through the month of August. Kramer had never intended them to be grouped in such a way, having made each at very different points in her career; but after some prodding from Indigenous Contemporary Scene's artistic director Émilie Monnet, she can certainly see the connections now. 'There's this stripping back of these layers of time, to arrive at an unloading of intergenerational trauma and its effects,' says Kramer, 'before coming into something that is more about celebrating the dignity of what my work is trying to hone into.'

Though these layers are interwoven through all three works, the past makes itself most explicitly known in Native Girl Syndrome, which Kramer first created as a means of trying to understand the cultural genocide that her grandmother had endured, and her subsequent struggles with addiction and homelessness. 'It's about portraying the humanity of these women, of street culture,' she says. 'I was trying to claim its importance: this is not a forgettable life.' But alongside the pain, there is also abundant humanity, 'laughter and ugliness and beauty – all of it.' In exploring what genocide looked and felt like in such terms, Kramer could greater contextualise her family's historical trauma within colonialism's legacy. 'Here's an opportunity to present a reality that the public cannot look away from,' she says. 'It's there, day to day, walking down the street. They have to go, "okay, there's life, there's vitality there."'

Lara Kramer: 'Here's an opportunity to present a reality that the public cannot look away from'

Native Girl Syndrome
Family remains an enduring focal point in This Time Will Be Different, her most contemporary challenge to Canada's colonial history. Created in collaboration with Monnet, the piece emerged from their frustration with the government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which they felt ultimately stifled the very indigenous voices that the Commission was meant to honour. Centred upon the emotional toll that the Commission wreaks upon three generations of a family, This Time Will Be Different is an attempt to reclaim the indigenous community's place at the centre of a pain that continues to reverberate through generations. 'It's not a joke when we talk about intergenerational trauma,' she says. 'We're not just making actions and choices for our own personal selves. We're acting as a bridge to the future generation and the past.'

For Kramer, it's this eye to the future that is sorely missing from the Canadian government's attempts at reconciliation, which currently amount to little more than band-aid solutions and face-saving measures. True reconciliation, she argues, would begin with the Canadian government honouring aboriginal title to land; but unfortunately, she doesn't hold out much hope of that happening. 'We're a colonist country, built upon the back of indigenous destruction,' she says. 'To rectify that would mean changing the very identity of Canada.'

And yet, this doesn't stop her from imagining better futures ahead. In Miijin Ki, four performers explore the damage that colonial land ownership has done to the people and the land, but also of possible outcomes wherein humans and nature can exist as one. 'Performing it as an open lab can be seen as a risk,' she admits, 'but there's something really inviting in that. It's a way of trying to break away from what's expected of material.' Indeed, Miijin Ki's clear focus on joy is a radical departure from what has become commonly expected from indigenous narratives, and is a hopeful note she wishes to explore in her work going forward. 'I want to look at moments that we don't usually see in the proposition of indigenous bodies on stage,' Kramer says, 'one that plays with nuances of dignity, beauty and celebration.'

Native Girl Syndrome, Summerhall, 2–11 Aug (not 5 & 6), 4.20pm, £10 (£8); This Time Will Be Different, Summerhall, 13–18 Aug, 4pm, £10 (£8); Miijin Ki, Summerhall, 20–24 Aug, 4pm, £10 (£8).

This Time Will Be Different

  • 3 stars

Indigenous Contemporary Scene Presented by Indigenous Contemporary Scene, performance-based installation This Time Will Be Different denounces the Canadian government's discourse on Indigenous people and takes a critical look at the national reconciliation industry. From one inquiry to the next, the emotional labour…

Miijin Ki

  • 2 stars

Indigenous Contemporary Scene A woman twirls endlessly, casting trails of pleasure, while another rebuilds beauty among the fall and collapse of her storm. A man and a woman sit together in their spontaneity. Rocks hit ice, water gushes, voices muffled, plastic manipulated. Witness four bodies navigating colonial values…

Native Girl Syndrome

  • 4 stars

Indigenous Contemporary Scene Presented by Indigenous Contemporary Scene, Native Girl Syndrome is inspired by the experience of Lara Kramer's own grandmother’s migration from a remote First Nations community into an unfamiliar urban environment as a young woman. It is at once the story of one woman and the story of many…