Valley of Shadows

École d’Aviation / Flying School: Diane Landry
October 14 – November 10, 2001

a response to the exhibition by Rodney LaTourelle

“And for everything which is visible there is a copy of that which is hidden.” –Gary Hill

A kind of trance is induced as soon as one hears the faint whistling and begins to sense the slow, sure motions of Diane Landry’s installation, &Eacutecole d’aviation (Flying School). If you are trying to quit smoking, it may be hard to bear.

The twenty-four found umbrellas that periodically open and close in this piece saturate the galley with a rhythm similar to human breathing. The allusion to breath is intensified by a bellows system that operates each umbrella and that vibrates a harmonica segment as the umbrella folds back into itself. A light illuminates each umbrella as it is activated, projecting star-shaped shadow that open and close across the ceiling. The entire gallery seems to inflate and deflate, transformed by the subtle combination of sound, delicate movement, soft light, and moving shadow.

The break of consciousness between the transparent umbrellas and their dilating shadows is intensified by the hypnotic synaesthesia of sound, light, and movement. The fragile umbrellas are lifted by a careful assemblage linking an electric motor and a homemade yardstick to the bellows. The aesthetic awkwardness of found parts belied the subtlety of the work’s action.

The piece seduces immediately with its repetitive ‘breathing.’ Like the powerful charm of smoking, it is this reciprocal exchange between subject and context that this immersive environment exhibits and awakens in the viewer. A compulsive, fluid, pulsing excercise, related to the body through addiction and mechanical action, is ritually enacted. We drift somewhere between Blake’s spectre and emanation — between half-conscious shadows of desire and oddly enchanting figures for the imagination.

While many artist’s today use modern technology in order to create the aura of physical presence, Diane Landry has no such illusions. Inversly, her installations tend to expand everyday objects into immateriality. And the simultaneous presentation of a domestic object and its projected image-shadow merges the virtual and the visceral into a strange doubling.

The uncanny exchange between the banal and the immaterial is further exaggerated by the general digitization of contemporary experience — the violent fact that the digital world is beginning to mediate more and more our relations to “reality.” Unlike video, where images are recorded and played back, Landry’s projections maintain a curious tension between real-time presence and two-dimensional representation. This technique maintains an intimate distance between object and image, creating a breathing space infused with material transformation.

The tendency to expand the art object in order to tranform its context is revealed in one of Diane Landry’s earliest pieces. The work, produced in collaboration with Jocelyn Robert, consisted of a grid-pattern of concrete blocks that were spread out on a grassed area for three days and were later covered in lime. As rain dissolved the lime into the ground, the grass surrounding the blocks became greener. Removal of the blocks left a gridded pattern of exposed dirt surrounded by lush grass.

In the performance La Morue at aceartinc., Landry disintegrated objects into fleeting shadows and seemed to produce a kind of dream langour in the audience. Illuminated from behind, a series of objects (many translucent) were spun on turntables. Accompanied by the audible manipulations of the record needle, the moving shadows twisted, growing larger and smaller as they turned, suspended in a magic transformation. This technique not only broke the objects from any normal context but also released unseen stories: memories, associations, etc. buried in their everyday uses.

Landry romanced the objects with new and beautiful relations, exploiting and reinforcing their narrative potential. The strange mutations of a series of small farm animals seemed comical at points, forboding at others, and were extended by a relationship to a wiggling shoe like your mother would wear. Landry’s machine magnified the everday self-same identity of her select objects into the realm of images, free to mutate and combine with the range of feelings in the imagination.

Diane Landry’s methods invoke the animation and fascinations of childhood play and fantasy. We all experience moments where objects or situations break the trance of domestic routine and astonish us with poignancy, memories spurred, or maybe beauty or new associations. But this childhood sense of wonder, unless exercised, seems to become increasingly fragile as one matures.

Of course, there are myriad ways to attend to this. There is a vast and nuanced field of technologies for enhancing consciousness, including mechanical devices, meditation, ritual magic, therapies, yogas, the lavish menu of psychotropic possibilities, as well as good old tobacco. There are also the magical assemblages of Landry’s conjuring machines.

Rodney LaTourelle needs more oxygen