Amy Howden-Chapman

Drain Lake Project (2010)

4 min 23 secSingle channel / Sound / transferred to Digital Video / Colour / Sound

Filmed in 2010 in Elysian Park, Los Angeles, Drain Lake Project takes as its starting point an ordinary piece of urban infrastructure, a concrete drain which bifurcates a section of lawn in a popular inner-city park. Filmed on Super 8, the camera documents an ‘audio picnic’ a performative occasion on which the absence of any water flowing down the drain was highlighted by the presence of a boom box placed by Howden-Chapman on the site and playing an audio poem. A deep and distinctive male voice narrates a text that uses simile after simile to compare his own voice to water.

“My voice was chosen because it sounds the most like a lake. Not a river, a lake. Not at all like a piñata, like a lake. You could say it sounds like a large pond, but really that’s a lake. My voice doesn’t sound like Jack Nicholson, not in Chinatown, like a lake.”

Filmed on Easter Sunday, the background setting of the park vibrates with festive activities. Children run across the frame, but the handheld camera chooses to focus not on the horizon but on the ground. The image only comes into focus when the camera settles on the source of sound, the boom box, and this is the moment the film snaps from being silent to being all—and only—sound. The screen goes black and for a time we hear the audio poem that was playing on the day of filming.

Drain Lake Project endlessly evokes water, but water is never seen, and in this sense the film reflects on the broader ecological crisis unfolding in the Los Angeles context and beyond, that of climate exacerbated drought. The oblique reference to Chinatown, the iconic 1974 film, nods to the long-standing cultural fascination with California water infrastructure. In this short film it is not the Los Angeles River that is the focus, but a much humbler and more localized concrete conduit. Yet like the Los Angeles River, the concave curve of the Elysian Park drain becomes a metaphor for the attempts to control and develop the Los Angeles basin which have transformed the once bucolic Southern California into a landscape plagued by drought and punctuated by extreme weather.

See this text about Drain Lake Project by Thomasin Sleigh, orginally published in Runway magazine.

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