Landry's Shields, Keys to Wonder

by Sara Angelucci

When I was a child, my bed was a place from where anything was possible. I would often lie there and imagine that if I placed the Encyclopedia Britannica under my pillow by morning I would have magically absorbed all of the information it contained; and if I kept up the practice, night after night for each volume from A to Z, I could eventually know everything there was to know about the world. In my mind, the encyclopedia was a wondrous place of all knowledge. From my bed I embarked (and still do) on fantastical dreams; I could fly anywhere, by extending my arms and simply knowing I could do so. I think of how my grandmother rocked me to sleep in my bed, and of how from her bed, on a small farm in a tiny Italian village, she gave birth to all of her seven children; the same bed in which they were conceived. I then marvel at the thought that my mother both arrived and left her life from a bed at home. Having been born in the bed of her parents, she spent the end of her life ill for many months and peacefully passed away in her bed.

From birthing bed to deathbed, the bed embraces our corporeal existence, shepherding the body through its cycle of life. It is the place where the body embraces sexual pleasure, retreats in pain, grows, seeks solace, rests, and heals. Yet, the bed is also the site from which we most freely shed the body’s weight, where we are launched from the shores of our waking life onto an ocean of sleep and on our wildest adventures, unraveling the vivid delights and horrors of the unconscious mind. It is these rich and varied connotations of the bed as a vessel for the body’s conscious and unconscious journeys, that imbues Diane Landry’s kinetic sculptural installation The Magic Shield and video The Lost Shield, with such resonant imaginings. The installation, composed of several beds (two of which are presented in this exhibition) and video, evoke the multiple and simultaneous possibilities of lived physical experience, memories and dreams.

Diane Landry, The Magic Shield (detail), 2005, installation with automation, 2 futon-frame-beds, motors, selected objects, aluminum, wood, halogen lamp, MIDI controller, computer.
Diane Landry, The Magic Shield (detail), 2005, installation with automation, 2 futon-frame-beds, motors, selected objects, aluminum, wood, halogen lamp, MIDI controller, computer.Courtesy of the artist.

Landry’s beds/constructions, with their exposed wiring and moving mechanisms that crank, clank, tinkle, rustle, and flash, may impress with their mechanical commotion, but deep down they embrace no real technological function. These beds claim no competence or mere comfort. They in fact debunk what Jeanne Randolph would describe as the “Ethos of Technology.” As Randolph sees it, technology is not merely a collection of objects, but rather an ideology prescribing a set of social values that “embraces efficiency, economy of means, and is highly prized. For instance time should be saved, accidents should not happen, with fewer detours and no effects of chance. Efficiency, speed. In fact, I would say that one aspect of the Technological Ethos is that there is a very high value put on finding the one best way to do things.”1 As Randolph goes on to explain, the Technological Ethos imposes a dualistic vision of lived experience separating the mind/body, real/fantasy and subjective/objective.

Landry’s employment of technology entirely collapses the “this or that” of such binary readings, eliminating its functional efficiency. Her kinetic works with their dynamic mechanisms spring to life, their shifting positions evoking shifting meanings; the edges of reality and fantasy are intentionally blurred. In Landry’s hands, technology, no longer burdened by a singular function, engenders free association. As Randolph sees it, one of the major problems with the Ethos of Technology is that it narrows our world view to one which claims that there is “one best way to understand human predicaments, reification (indeed commodification)” and threatens the freedom of the subconscious mind to freely associate “with all its blunders, its accidents, its yearnings.”2 I began this essay by freely associating Landry’s installation to my experience and memories of the bed. Beginning with the memory of the encyclopedia, one unconscious association led to the next. The bed embraced my childhood, family history, dreams, life, and death. Landry’s installation generously offers up the possibility that our unconscious may be triggered in a conscious state, dissolving the margins of waking and dreaming.

These beds/apparatuses are an empathetic collection of misplaced objects, items discarded by technology’s need for efficiency, reassembled to claim a common purpose of metaphoric possibility. Lost keys that no longer unlock doors, replaced by the convenience of the swipe-card, and unread encyclopedia usurped by the speed and vastness of the internet, are reemployed in the beds’ skeletal frames; their obsolescence repurposed in the beds’ underbelly. It is as if they have been released (or rescued) from their previous mundane uses to encompass utterly new and wondrous possibilities. Landry’s keys and encyclopedia take us to the threshold of unconscious revelations. Placed in the bed’s core, Landry awakens the forgotten soul of these instruments where encyclopedia are repositories of personal knowledge, and keys tools that unlock doors of perception. They suggest, as Carl Jung asserts in his theory of dream symbol analysis, that understanding the symbolic codes buried in our dreams is a means of releasing the self hidden in the unconscious.3

Accordingly, Landry’s beds offer no rest or consolation; these beds disturb, stir anticipation and incite wonder. Glowing from beneath, the encyclopedia bed with its rustling blankets echoes the perpetual restlessness of the body in Landry’s video The Lost Shield. The moving blanket “shield” suggests two bodies, tossing and turning, twitching or struggling in a state of physical discomfort or anxiety—perhaps from a nightmare? The blankets are stiff and rustle anxiously as if what lies within is challenged by feverish delirium. They offer no warmth or solace, no repose, but a sense of confinement betraying an enveloped uneasiness; as if a papery chrysalis or distended womb were holding back the imminent birth of it’s restless contents. In the tinkling key bed, its chiming arousing our attention, the blanket lifts as if to fly off on its own, a virtual magic carpet. With light flashing from below, the blanket and surrounding walls become screens onto which the bed’s hidden secrets are cast; a Platonic shadow play exaggerated and deformed.

In the video The Lost Shield, a reclining body (Landry herself) silently moves from one position to the next. In a series of still dissolves, a fidgety torso—the body’s heart centre —reminds us that even rest is an active process. Yet we wonder, what is the intimate connection between these movements and her sleep state? Does a restless body signify a restless mind? In viewing this silent shifting, the body and mind seem fused in a common passage of tension. In the accompanying video, A Radio Silence, Landry takes on a performance of endurance, ironically countering the bodyʼs movement in sleep by attempting stillness in a state of wakefulness. In this work Landry shows us the impossible, compressing two days of standing—photographing herself once per minute—into six minutes of extraordinary time travel.

Landry’s encyclopedia bed released my long-forgotten childhood fantasy. In the process of remembering, I reconnected with this lost child-self, experiencing once again the boundlessness of her imagination. I was taken home, a home of long ago, where my fundamental sense of self was formed. The domestic space is the origin of our primary experiences, where our vast array of memory begins to form, and from where our unconscious begins to recognize and separate itself as distinct from that of the other. In her magical installation, Landry mines a wealth of connotations from the domestic space; her transformation of ordinary things unleashing the possibility for free association, liberating the most mundane objects from their servitude and imbuing them with the boundless associations buried deeply within us.

1 Jeanne Randolph, Symbolization and its Discontents, Toronto: YYZ Books, 1997, p. 41-42.

2 Ibid, p. 43.

3 Carl Jung, Man and his symbols, New York: Doubleday, 1964, pp. 28-29.

Diane Landry lives and works in Québec City. Since 1987, her works have travelled widely across Canada and in major cities in the USA, Mexico, Argentina, many European countries, Australia, and China. Her works have been discussed in numerous publications and recognized by important awards in Québec as well as in the United States. She is the first recipient of the prestigious Giverny Capital Prize, a distinction awarded to a visual artist from Québec. She has been an artist in residence in many centres in Canada, the USA, France, Italy, and Argentina. She has just completed a six-month stay in the Studio du Québec in New York, sponsored by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Diane Landry holds a MA from Stanford University, California and is represented by SolwayJones Gallery in Los Angeles.

Sara Angelucci is a photo and video artist living in Toronto. She has exhibited her photography across Canada and her videos have been screened nationally and internationally, in festivals in Europe, Hong Kong and Australia. Her work has been supported by various public arts funders and is included in numerous private and public collections such as: the National Portait Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Civilization and the McDonald Stewart Art Centre. Previously the Director of Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography from 1998 to 2008, Angelucci is currently teaching photography at the Ontario College of Art & Design and Ryerson University. Angelucci holds a B.A. from the University of Guelph and an M.F.A. from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and her work is represented by Wynick/Tuck Gallery and V-Tape in Toronto.

Design and Editing: Tony Hewer
Digital publication to the exhibition Diane Landry: The Magic Shield
Presented by the Koffler Gallery Off-site at Beaver Hall Gallery | March 19 to May 3, 2009 | Curator: Mona Filip

© Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2009, in collaboration with the individual contributors.
All rights reserved. ISBN 978-0-920863-85-5.

Koffler family FoundationCIBC Wood GundyOntario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L'OntarioToronto Arts Council | Funded by the City of TorontoCanada Council