Flying School Automaton

Craft & Design
flying school
Flying School (2000) uses 24 umbrellas, harmonicas, motors, steel, halogen lamps, a MIDI controller, and a computer.

Walking into Diane Landry’s installation Ecole d’aviation (Flying School) is like stumbling upon a magical garden. Dancing umbrellas take the place of flowers, the vibe is eternally moonlit, and a beautiful medley of mechanized harmonica parts fills the air like mystical birdsongs.

For the past 20 years, Landry has used various kinds of technology to transform everyday objects into her uniquely theatrical installation art. Her roots as a performance artist are playfully evident in her animated sculptural works that have been exhibited internationally since 1990. I had the chance to speak with her by phone from New York, where she’s currently enjoying a six-month residency in the SoHo district of Manhattan as the winner of a Québec grant competition.

Annie Buckley: A bit of background first: where did you grow up? Did you make art or use technology as a child?

Diane Landry: I grew up French Canadian in Québec City. For me, drawing was always part of my life, but a child just draws or paints. I wasn’t thinking that this could be a job.

AB: I read that you previously worked for the Canadian government. When did you transition to being an artist?

DL: I received my degree in technical natural science and then found a job in the government doing research in agriculture. I really liked the work, but after five years, I just wanted to be an artist. I quit my job to go back to school in fine arts. That’s when I found my place as an artist.

AB: Flying School was presented around the time of the Katrina disaster. How did that event change or alter the work?

DL: I made that work in 2000 and the project traveled quite a lot. In 2005, I presented it in Houston, just one month after Katrina, and during another hurricane. Most people left the city, but we decided to stay there and sleep in the gallery under the umbrellas. That was quite a nice experience.

I had decided to work with umbrellas because of their relationship to weather and to water, but we can read my work from different perspectives. It’s about recycling objects, but also recycling the meaning of objects. I like to make projects that are open-ended and have many different readings.

AB: What role does technology play in your process?

DL: Technology can create motion, or an idea of life. When you recycle objects, you give them a new purpose, but I also want to give them life in the sense of moving, like the motion of breathing. The best way to do this was to work with motors and sequences and all that technology. I started with basics, just adding light to installations, and I enjoyed it. I saw that changing the light could change the work, so early on, that was part of my process. To include motion and electricity was a natural next step for me.

AB: I notice that children often respond more favorably than adults to art that incorporates technology. Have you noticed that too?

DL: Definitely, children are really open. They are like, ‘Oh wow, it’s a new friend.’ They are not thinking, ‘Is it OK for sculpture to move?’ They just enjoy it. Most of the time you see all of the technology in my work. There is no mystery — everything is there.

To see more of Landry’s work in action, visit and

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