Landry’s laundry

Internationally-known Canadian artist Diane Landry showcases her work at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Landry’s subtle manipulations aim to shed new light on the complex relationships around us.
Landry’s subtle manipulations aim to shed new light on the complex relationships around us.

Meekly perched behind a cluttered mish-mash of sound equipment and a sewing machine, Diane Landry waited to begin her performance piece, La Machine à Foudre, in Chernoff Hall on Wednesday evening.

Landry was dressed in black save for two red converse shoes and purple-striped socks that shifted busily beneath her table-stage. The intimate, half-hour work spoke as loudly as Landry’s kicks. While it certainly shone as brightly as they did, it left the audience bewildered. Whether it was for better or for worse is up for debate.

The Quebecois artist is well-known in the world of contemporary art. She tampers with the meanings attributed to everyday objects. In her dreamed world, umbrellas become flowers and salad spinners are carousels. It aims to open the span of possibilities with which we see a world that tends to be pinned down by societal norms.

With La Machine à Foudre, Landry’s sewing machine prowls the terrain of a map of Quebec. Projected onto a large screen behind her, and warped by a kaleidoscopic lens, the audience sits in suspense. Landry labours with dexterous intensity. Thick black stitching, resembling an aimless vagabond, forages the Canadian terrain attach cut-out figures to the paper province.

Alongside the visual, the sounds of the sewing machine are amplified and looped. Landry brings a menacing roar to the click-clacking stitches, bringing the audience to the end of their seats in perplexed awe.

However, the nervous tension that I thought would subside once Landry finished her crafting only grew thicker. At completion Landry waved the map like a flag, revealing a depiction of the flag of Quebec with the Fleur-de-Lis altered. How so? The lights were off – few could tell.

Ambiguity aside, Landry’s imagery resoundingly toys with perceptions of a sewing machine. Throughout the piece, the sewing machine becomes contested as a symbol for the house-wife, a tool for relaxation, a weapon. As it carves fiercely across the land and lakes, the mundane appliance acquires these new meanings and forces reconsideration of the assumed.

Overall, despite the thoughts provoked, Landry’s piece was tough to make sense of, with the question-and-answer period following the performance making things even less clear.

When asked about the political orientation of her work, Landry seemed hesitant to go into detail. “It is very new for me, this piece. Of course if I did it, it was because I felt I needed to.”

Audience comments along a similar theme persisted. Landry gently kept her response simple.

“Do you think it is political?” she retorted at one point to dodge explanations of her personal views. She quickly continued with a self-consciously amused shake of her head. “Too much stuff on my mind.”

La Machine à Foudre is thoughtful, but confusion over the meaning of Landry’s statement seemed common among the audience. Some students argued that the symbols were altered swastikas reflecting Quebec’s separatist sentiments in some way. Others felt new Fleur-de-Lis were hydro towers.

Some, myself included, even admitted they had anticipated the conclusion would display cut-out children holding hands across the map.

So, what is Landry’s piece then, if few drew sound conclusions of what it meant? Well, it certainly sparked intended fire among the audience. Moreover, I think with the dispute something was forgotten about Landry’s work. Perhaps her intention was lost, but I’m not sure that mattered. Should that be the case, it parallels Landry’s hesitation to answer to the audience’s attempts to decipher her art.

Art is interpretation and often frustration. The clutter on the table of the production and in Landry’s stuffed mind suggest her artistic need to speak her voice, however that may be interpreted.

As one drama student put it, “That’s art.”

Landry’s subtle manipulations shed new light on the complex relationships around us. Her dusty dream world begs concepts to float freely from rigid definitions and reinvent themselves endlessly.

Diane Landry’s installation The Defibrillators is showing at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Dec. 13.

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