the eternally flickering image

chris reid re-views the world with quebec’s diane landry

QUÉBEC ARTIST DIANE LANDRY’S WORK INVOLVES EVERYDAY OBJECTS AND GADGETS, BUT SUGGESTS A LONG-HELD INTEREST IN THE ORIGINS AND POWER OF MOVING PICTURES, AND EXPOSES THE WAY CINEMA HAS CHANGED THE NATURE OF PERCEPTION.
Ecole d'aviation (Flying School), Diane Landry

Ecole d’aviation (Flying School), Diane Landry

Ecole d’aviation (Flying School), Diane Landry

For her performance, Morse Alphabet Soup, at RMIT University Union, Landry set up two turntables in front of the stage. Each is a large, slowly revolving pizza tray, on which she places a variety of objects in a planned sequence. A single bright light located behind each turntable projects a silhouette of the otherwise innocuous object on the turntable onto the auditorium’s blank cinema screen, creating a shadow puppet theatre. The objects—stencils used for lettering, egg-timers, drinking glasses, toy buses, dolls, a tiny bicycle and toy animals including rats positioned to suggest copulation—are selected for their symbolic power. Placed on the trays for a few seconds to a minute in a series of shifting superimpositions and juxtapositions, they create a darkly symbolic language addressing broader social realities.

Each turntable is equipped with a handmade phono arm and a stylus as large as a sewing needle in contact with the turning tray, sending a scraping sound through a multi-channel mixer to the auditorium’s PA. Landry complements the imagery by varying the sound-mix from screeching to moaning—it’s as if society is grinding itself to death. Parodying a DJ or a VJ, she blends objects, light and sound into a powerful cinematic experience. In her artist’s statement she discusses how projecting a silhouette to enlarge an object amplifies its presence and meaning and prompts a re-evaluation of the material world. She coined the phrase ‘oeuvre mouvelle’ to describe her work, noting that, like a piece of music, the work unfolds over a period of time and cannot be absorbed quickly.
Je ne trouve pas ma montre, elle ne s'est pourtant pas envoiée' (I can't find my watch yet it hasn't flown away)

Je ne trouve pas ma montre, elle ne s’est pourtant pas envoiée’ (I can’t find my watch yet it hasn’t flown away)

Je ne trouve pas ma montre, elle ne s’est pourtant pas envoiée’ (I can’t find my watch yet it hasn’t flown away)

Landry’s exhibition at Bus included three works that further attest her passion for robotics but also explore the nature of perception. Ecôle d’aviation (Flying School) comprises 20 umbrellas that open and close, the lights beneath them casting shadows like slow-moving clouds on the white gallery ceiling. Accompanied by a gentle sighing from the little electrically driven air pumps that activate each umbrella, this slow, mechanical unfolding of silhouetted forms projected into the room becomes a metaphor for our programmed, repetitive lives.

Je ne trouve pas ma montre, elle ne s’est pourtant pas envoiée (I can’t find my watch yet it hasn’t flown away) comprises 6 electrically-driven salad spinners mounted chest-high on a wall, each activated by a movement sensor and revealing, through a tiny aperture, glimpses of fragments of photos of someone going about her daily routines. In her notes Landry refers to the early 19th century parlour device, the Zoetrope, which preceded the birth of cinema and which demonstrated persistence of vision, or how the eye is tricked into seeing movement in a rapidly changing sequence of still images. The viewer gleans a ‘story’ from the imagery in the salad spinners that, ironically, is only triggered by the movement sensors. Landry’s use of vernacular found objects such as toys, salad spinners, surveillance devices and umbrellas, reconnects us to the everyday world and also shifts the work away from high art and cinematic traditions.

But perhaps Diane Landry’s most engaging work is Le bouclier perdu (The lost shield), a video of a woman (the artist) apparently tossing and turning in disturbed sleep on a couch. The video is constructed from a series of still photographs shown in a sequence of superimpositions and dissolves that disrupt the normal cinematic illusion of seamless movement. This artificial portrayal of broken, dreamy sleep becomes a metaphor for the inauthenticity of photography and cinema.

By recalling the work of moving picture pioneers such as Muybridge and the Lumière brothers, Landry’s work reveals how the moving image has been used to structure our perceptual awareness and understanding. Her work questions the impact of the persistence of vision to address the nature of visual comprehension and its relationship with emotional memory, highlighting our tendency to imbue the imagery that flashes before our eyes with narrative meaning and intent. By showing us how easily illusions can be created, we are prompted to see through our visual world and to acknowledge that the ‘truth’ we deduce from what we see may be a trompe l’oeil, a projection of our emotional state or a figment of our imagination.

The RMIT evening also included a performance by sound artist Ernie Althoff, a sound/video performance by Snawklor and Dale Nason, and the screening of Pia Borg’s great new video, When Objects Dream, all of which, with Landry’s work, neatly complement each other.

Diane Landry, Morse Alphabet Soup, RMIT University Union Kaleide Theatre, Dec 9; Bus, Melbourne, Dec 12-23 Dec 2006 www.clic.net/~dilandry

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 54

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2007