Interview by Dorothée Deyries-Henry, May 2017
Could you please introduce us to your film Après le feu (After the fire)?
After the fire is perhaps my most famous movie. It is a surprising film in every way, and as much for me as for all the people who discover it.
When I began working on the landscape seven years ago, I opened my thinking (and started a new adventure) by making a film that would settle its account with the image as a window on nature, as a simulacrum. This film – uaoen – gradually defeated the notion of representation by eliminating the symbolic aspects of the perspective. It also linked, in an ontological manner, the filmed objects with the image. Thus, at a certain point in the film, the leaves, the branches, the trees are generated by the technical bubbling of the image itself: the landscape grows from the image.
I shooted After the fire in Corsica in 2009 in the train that connects Corte to Ajaccio, just after an important forest fire. The sky was scorched by the sun and the earth burned by the flames. The landscape was very hard, almost only black and white. But the color was hiding and I knew that with the way I compress the images it would reveal itself.
After the fire was just a train movie, a little movie that I made because I like these types of cutscenes. I thought the compressions would remove the symbolic dimensions of the image, but they actually strenghten them, and abysmal verticals gradually appeared, cutting the rails and making them look suspended in the void of the image. The visual escalation finally reinforced the impression of perspective.
This film also uses spots on the train windows or adjustments of the camera sharpness settings to create some artifacts of the image, and so on …
I think your films are highly sophisticated in their relationship with technology, and this is a quality to me. How does digital writing enable you to translate the density & fugitivity of nature and of its experience? How does the culture & heritage of analog filming impact your work?
Images can not render what nature is, at best when the filmmaker is very observant images can document nature. I have always wanted to keep the ideas of disorder and fugitivity in my work. But any simulation remains a model, no matter how impressive or powerful it is. Anyway my work aims to make people conscious of this oscillation between the nature of images and images of nature, it aims to alter their perception.
When I started with computers and video, I was still a student, and I think I knew right away that the question for me would be to find out how to develop a pictorial practice with these tools that tended to deliver ever more artificial images. I wanted to engage in something very concrete and very physical which would touch people deeply, like painting touched me. But on the other hand, I never wanted to do anything that would be a simulated painting. I never wanted to use the computer to “enhance” or “improve” anything. I needed to find something really singular and circumstantial. It took me a long time and I was naturally led to the practice of the moving image. I then discovered in the early 2000s that video compression could be the starting point of a great adventure.
The density of shapes and colors that the world provides is very large. The information used to visualize an image is ridiculously smaller, but it still exceeds the capacities of our imagination. It is a quantity that can not be grasped.
My work has been two-sided for years. On one side I criticize the use of computer science in art by freeing up the signal, and on the other side I develop a landscape aesthetic for self-awareness. And the spiritual dimension becomes first degree in my latest videos: the Japas.
Could you tell us about the artists and film makers who inspire your work or whom you feel close to?
Talking about the artists who inspire me is quite easy: I am passionate about painting, from its inception until today. I like to go to Florence to see the birth of the Renaissance. Hand painting touches me deeply, it triggers something in my consciousness that connects me to the world, in a deep and sensitive way. It does not make me travel in my mind, it takes me to a state of strong presence.
My first decisive artistic encounters were with cinema, from Tarkovski to Lynch: it is in movie theatres that my passion for images was born. Painting came much later. I had some inclination for a few paintings I knew from school, but it is my first visit to the Musée d’Orsay which really shook things. It is there that some unexpected paintings took roots in my mind: Rosa Bonheur with its Nivernais Plowing, for example, but especially the black brook of Courbet that touched me very much. It is funny, but you can say that it is one of the most important paintings for me. It is this picture that I came back to see. It is the most mysterious, the one that during each visit opened doors towards incredible universes. Light and matter play a game that still troubles me. Then there is Monet and Turner. It is quite obvious in most of my work. I try to be somewhere between Turner and Courbet, even in the movement, even in the sound. Here are the other artists that form my own mental landscape, the ones I “visit” almost daily. I’ll let you do some research for those you may not know. For me, they cannot be overlooked (in no particular order): Vassily Kandinsky, John Cage, Gerhard Richter, James Turell, Jean-Luc Godard, Bill Viola, Vera Molnar, Joost Rekveld, Frank Zappa, Ferdinand Hodler and Paul Klee…. And also Vilém Flusser, François Flahault, Ivan Illich, Georges Didi- Huberman, Nicole Brenez, Bidhan Jacobs, Gregory Chatonsky, Gilles A. Tiberghien, Patrick Burensteinas, Roger Caillois, Yogi Bhajan …
Picture: One of Jacques Perconte "generative video", as shown during "Everyday Abstraction: Images at Work" opening, May 20, 2017 in Paris.