What We Take With Us

Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas

January 5 to February 4, 2012

What We Take With Us is a two-channel video installation examining what it is to call a place “home” – and the psychological shifts evoked by the experience of physically repositioning oneself in the world.

This project is an explorationof internal and external experiences characteristic to travel and displacement. It grew from a research residency at the Sydney College for the Arts (Sydney, Australia) in September/October 2009. During our stay, we researched urban, as well as more sparsely populated coastal and inland geographies of New South Wales. Starting from our personal exploration and interviews of others, we looked for indications of what it is like to live in a place; to call it home, and at displacement / shifts evoked by the experience of physically repositioning oneself in the world.

Our research began from the perspective of examining the concept of home and what it means to individuals. As the project developed, we found that it evolved into a discussion of memory and presence, of being in the world. The process brought us to the realization that what we take with us might not be as important as what, or whom we sometimes leave behind. As we move ahead, friends, family and familiar surroundings move into memory; sometimes, that is the only way to experience them again. As the nature of living leads us forward, we are constantly required to face current events and circumstances; to grow and evolve within the present. In essence, this is also part of the discussion of nomadism and contemporary life.

– Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas, 2010


Recurrent waves of colonialism and globalization have smoothed and prescribed our encounters with places. For the traveler, points of difference, or of distinction, are sought after, or are patronizingly provided. Monuments, historical sites and natural landmarks are increasingly oriented to “the amused eye”, which the traveler can then compare and develop a discourse “for the comparative connoisseurship of places.” [1]

In What We Take With Us, Dugas and LeBlanc explore a complicated, contingent terrain, whose borders extend into and circumvent geographies, both physical and social, ‘here’ and “away”. Encompassing individual catalysts, personal experiences, mental and body memories, the resulting landscape can’t be easily anticipated or defined.

The 2-channel video and audio works are byproducts of their experiences and encounters during a 5-week residency in Sydney, Australia and environs. These works draw from source material collaboratively gathered from interviews, learnings, explorations and reflections oriented around questions of home, the city, and what is “away”. They produce a third space, an internal territory housing what can’t quite be reconciled.

The videos mimic the internal ordering and filtering of places. Each series of vignettes display a personal vision, reflecting the difference in interpretation even by two people so closely aligned. They follow in Dugas and LeBlanc’s collaborative approach in their production and presentation, but in this case the associations are left to chance due to an unsynched running time.  The result is a constantly shifting dialogue between the videos, with unknown permutations and combinations.

Mouvance, roughly translated, refers to a textual mobility that recognizes the possibility of modification of dialect, rewriting, loss, replacement and rearrangement. It can suggest casual movement: standing back, sliding, diving in. It can also describe my experience of engaging with this work.

My initial encounter with the videos, presented side by side, had the immediate sensation of an overwhelming immersion in the richness of the dual narratives.  The disorientation is freeing, and I’m hesitant to assign meaning, preferring the rush of words and images to wash over me.

After a time, a different immersion takes place. The narrative lines come into focus and I’m able to follow them (together or separately), drawing points of connection between the two perspectives.

I felt an affinity to the swimmer in “downunder”, whose legs dip in and out of the water; each time they emerge, the sky and sea invert, as if the swimmer is oscillating between oceans half a world away from each other.

A third immersion inverts this relationship, when after leaving the viewing experience, the images, texts and stories are absorbed, internalized.

The realization (overt or covert) comes that our sense of what is familiar or strange is subjective and not fixed. The reflections join, push against and adjust positionings, reorienting and becoming part of a malleable, shifting internal landscape.

– Tomas Jonsson

[1] Urry, John. “Sensing the City” in The Tourist City. Dennis R. Judd and Susan Fainstein (eds). Yale University Press, 1999. P. 74.


Daniel Dugas and Valerie LeBlanc‘s collaborative artistic practice includes media projects, performances and writing. The social and political aspects of the world, and the technological changes that continue to augment reality are the revolving pivots on which that practice revolves. At the heart of all their activities is the desire to
establish a rapport between what is experienced and what is imagined; the conscious and the unconscious. The underpinning motivation is to move communication forward.

As an artist, curator and writer, Tomas Jonsson is interested in issues of social agency in processes of urban growth and transformation. In 2007 he participated in the Border Cities Kolleg at the Bauhaus Institute in Dessau, Germany, where he developed projects with creative and precarious communities in Tallinn and Helsinki. Tomas is currently the board president of the Mountain Standard Time Performative Arts Festival in Calgary.

This project was generously assisted by the Research Residency Program at Sydney College of the Arts, the Visual Arts Faculty of the University of Sydney, Australia. The artists also gratefully acknowledge additional financial assistance in the realization of this project from The Canada Council for the Arts and The New Brunswick Arts Board.