For another notion of work... or how to resist the ruins of happiness
Interview with Jean-Gabriel Périot.


But you - why go back down to such misery?
Why not ascend the delightful mountain,
source and principle that causes every joy?
Dante, Divine Comedy - Inferno


Since 2000, Jean-Gabriel Périot has been presenting his works as installations or screenings. Interested in the working world, in violence in its forms and the intimate as a depositary of the universal, he accepts yielding to something more, beyond images... From his first works - the installation Le travail, the video GAY? - through to his latest film Nijuman no borei (200000 Fantômes), his is a path to follow without moderation.


How do you work? Alone? With other artists?

l work increasingly more alone. During preparation, I write alone, a little bit, and read a lot. I like maintaining the utmost freedom. I ask for help once I get financial backing. Generally, however, the works are of a technical and not artistic nature. Whenever possible, I work with a sound editor. Most of the lime I elaborate my images to pre-existing music, to a rhythm. I listen lo a lot of music, purely for pleasure. Sometimes the music and the problems I take on overlap. When working on Nijuman no borei, I discovered that Current 93's lyrics (Larkspur and Lazarus from Soft Black Stars) reflected my same concerns,which is why I decided to use their music. It was not expresslycomposed for my film. In the beginning, I don't always know thedirection in which my film will ultimately take me. Workingalone keeps me from dragging other people towards thisunknown (and wasting their lime), and allows to let mywork be free and to evolve in the editing stage. Only Devil Inside was made in collaboration with graphic artist Tom de Pékin. The experience was fascinating, but I'm not entirely satisfied with the results. In any collaboration, there is always an element of risk that you must be able to accept...


You oscillate between experimentation and documentaries. How did you arrive at your current working method?

The bulk of my work is made up of tests. I began working relatively late. When I was a teenager I wanted to make films, then my choices became increasingly more specific, pushing me towards documentaries. I initially took a traditional path as an editor, then as an assistant director. But things were not progressing... So I decided to create installations. Later I had the opportunity to start proposing documentary installations focused on the intimate and on work. The highly documentary nature of my first installation, Le travail, is represented through the compilation of found, pre-existing Curriculum Vitae… But I was only partially satisfied. The very beginning of any installation brings with it an intrinsic frustration deriving from the fact you will be able to show your work only in two or three places. To make up for this lack I made a film version of 21.04.02. I felt a truly urgent need to speak inside of me, the impatient hope of influencing the world in my own way.


How do you look for in the images of others?

l don't look for answers but to grasp the stakes expressed by the images. I look for that which makes me question, and the reasons why it does so. There are various categories of images, a wide range of diverse images. Often it is the presence of certain ambivalence in the images, considered as a whole that makes me question... There exist images that are difficult to grasp, which immediately pose a problem, such as in Even if she had been a criminal... and others that are simpler at first sight, such as in Dies Irae. But these simple images, once grouped into a single corpus, ironically evoke images of charnel houses (absent from the film) and refer back to the problems they carry with them.


How do you explain the undertaking of this immense pictorial collection? Do you sometimes pick up the camera to film?

When I find images that create a problem for me, I search for the form suitable for questioning them, to offer a new interpretation. I look a t the images dozens of times. I posses a corpus of images that are fixed and in movement that make me think... which is never exhausted. It is the unique character of the collection that is interesting, not the photography. While editing Even if she had been a criminal... I knew where I wanted to arrive, towards which re-interpretation I wanted to lead the spectator: "How is-it possible for one image to contain two contradictory things?" (Frenchmen shaving the heads of French women accused of having been with Germans during WWlI). I am extremely focused on existing images, I never film! To film the right way, you need to have a sense of the meaningfulness of the world that I don't possess. I can only grasp the void. Before I can create images myself I still need to answer this question through my films: what is an image?


Do you use the same images and sounds in various films?

Given that my work begins from a congruous collection of images, there are some I that refer to the working world and that I used for my installation Pointing out the ruins and re-used in the film We are winning don’t forget.


Your films are made up of fixed images, from which you recreate movement. What is the result of your relationship with movement?

This is a phenomenon that came about somewhat accidentally. While preparing my installation 21.04.02, I realized that it was necessary to construct the images, find an order, an architecture. I needed to find a certain fluidity, without which the eye can a easily become tired, risking exhaustion. Placing the images one after the other, according to a precise order, I realized that I could do animation... I was immediately seduced by this practice, which refers back to this need of making another image appear.


Will you continue? Will you change something?

l definitely have no desire to waste times... I'm not pursuing a career, but I feel an immense need to make and say things. And to do so in freest way possible, it is fundamental for me to not be restricted by the economic aspect. That 's wiry I chose a profession from which I can make a living, alongside my artistic work. I am an editor of archival documentaries for television... and, more recently, of short fiction films. It’s a certain sense, this is a lucky circumstance, because my next project is a fictional one on the subject of work: the story of a young man who can't find the fob he wants. We received subsidies from the CNC and the Limoges Region, and the shooting is scheduled for October 2007. I'm currently looking for a cameraman and a director of photography, so I’ll experiment working with a crew for the first time. Shot on film, the work will function on two levels of images: on the one hand, very grainy nocturnal images, warm colors and, on the other, clear images, with aggressive lighting. I don't have a favorite genre, rather, themes that are close to my heart. Fiction imposed itself on this project. Then I’ll start working on a documentary project...


You have worked in numerous and varied professions ... How do you prefer to be described today?

l don't like the label of video artist, nor of videomaker or filmmaker. I don't like the separation between video and cinema... I am a director.


In a certain sense, your films are portraits. What do you think of that? Why this form?

The motivation that stimulates me is very simple ... My films can be seen as portraits of a person, a time or a specific place... l begin with small things, small forms, to arrive at a portrait of something broader, more symbolic. Dies Irae, with its accumulation of streets, places, landscapes, is a metaphor of life. This accumulation gives rise to a third image (dear to Jean-Luc Godard), which belongs to the unconscious. In Dies Irae; it is a universal concept of the landscape, which surfaces through the sensation of similarity. Likewise, in lire music, a certain Asian tonality seems to liberate itself from the film, whereas the Asiatic parts are not predominant. In We are winning don’t forget, it is the idea, the typical image of the worker, that comes to light. But it is a false image! This is precisely what I want to call attention to.


Your films strive to conjure up the ghosts of history ... What is your relationship with ruins and memories?

Ruins are tied to memory. They crystallize a moment in history in a violent manner. That which makes me question are not the ruins themselves, but their formation. Relationships between contradictory elements are placed side by side: in 200000 Fantômes, I examine memory and oblivion. Hiroshima recalls thetragedy and, simultaneously, the obscenity of modernity thatfights against ruins. I’m interested in ruins as images. The senseof interpretation of certain important images is forgotten...These are the ruins-images that make me question! In that waythe state of ruin becomes universal...


Are the intimate and the universal inextricable for you?

My intimate films a re not catharses but works of purely fictional narrative. They are literally staged. In Intimate Diary, Ireveal a temporary physical condition. I used this striking physicalcondition to speak of the body in its universality, its deconstruction, its frailty... There was an intellectual rather thanphysical need to think of the physical condition as one thinks ofthe state of the world.


What do you think of the idea of militancy? What are the possible ways of carrying it out?

I’m not a convinced follower of Bourdieu, but I pretty much agree when he states that to change the world "everyone must act on the local level." I’m not the typical militant, whose commitment and risk-taking l nevertheless admire. Despite not running the same level of danger, I express my resentment of the world through my weapons, in other words through my films!


What is your point of view on the working world?

It is the most political of environments. The focal point of all ideologies. Marx expresses this idea of working and sharing earnings. But Lafargue (Le droit à la paresse) raises a question: why don't we work less? We need to rethink the working world, because the current model of work-production-consumption, in constant acceleration, hurls man towards losing himself. I consider the theory of decrement to be extremely important. We must work to construct. We must preserve this notion of the usefulness of work, to be shared with all. In our contemporary Western societies we are regressing. I don't understand capitalist theory… The reigning naturalness of how we view salaried work today is incomprehensible to me.


What place does happiness occupy in life? Does happiness exist? Or is it a utopia? A search? A memory…?

For me it is the goal to achieve. It should represent the foundations of humanity. I have a life ethic, of a political nature, that is rather joyous. I give precedence to the happiness of everyday life, l do things willingly. I like to entertain a simple relationship with the everyday and sharing. I believe that the principle of generosity is primordial. It's necessary to be heedful of everything, Heedful of people. I try to have a relationship with things founded on happiness. If we are attentive, it is always possible to find pleasure in things. I don't understand violence, work is violent. l know full well that humanity is founded o, violence, but l think it's impossible to be violent and happy at the same lime.


Is not happiness what counts?
Is it not for happiness that revolutions are made?
Pier Paolo Pasolini, Scritti Corsari


by Emmanuelle Sarrouy
Pesaro film festival 2007