Laurent Montaron is a french artist, based in Paris. He is represented by the Schleicher + Lange gallery. In this interview, he talks about his last film Short study on the nature of things and gives us personnal thoughts about its relationship with time and image.
Sarah Mercadante : Short study on the nature of things seems an important turn in your filmography because the first character who talks off screen remembers her intuitions on time and image. Can you talk about the genesis of this project? What are the starting point and conditions of production?
Laurent Montaron : I always feel as if I’m looking for the meaning of birth ideas. This study appeared spontaneously when I wondered about the way I usually worked.
The starting point of my previous film, Pace – where we see a carp heart beating in the palm of one’s hand – came to me a day (I didn’t know exactly how) I remembered my father when we were fishing. He gutted the fish we just catched and pointed out to me that the fish heart he threw in water kept beating under the surface.
So I kept the exact moment when this anecdote came back in mind and I pictured myself making a film of it.
For Short study on the nature of things, I leaned on this idea, that I often looked into my memories to find some motives.
Childhood memories based on my fragmented observation of the world led me up to consider the notion of knowledge in the perspective of the one of belief. As every child, I developed a representation of the world which had things in common with the notion of cosmogony. And by certains aspects, it could be similar to archaic beliefs and various conceptions of world that I could compare to some pre-socratic thinkers notably as regards of time.
Nowadays, knowledge and technic are indivisible notions. In the context of modernity, technic has conditionned the way we watch and the way we catch our environment with more or less distance. In the same time, technic tools filter has changed the world we live in. The experience during childhood is somehow nude, spare of representations which keep prejudices alive. Imagination takes the most important part on interpretation we give to things we want to understand.
So my film draws up similarities between the almost irrationnal experience of the world beheld by child eyes, through memories of the off screen voice and many representations of time or object.
S.M.: Which importance has this film, regarding your whole work?
L.M. : This film made me work in a new way. I don’t want to make a longer film, with more budget. I find independance working with a process where writing is made little by little. It was something I tried out, knowing that film only found its final form with the editing, even if the first idea was clear. I wanted to re-establish a form of former films from narrative cinema, such as we know it, without it becoming a documentary or gaining an experimental aesthetic. Consequently I couldn’t define in which style it belongs to, although it was a story in the end.
S.M.: The process of reflection which led you to produce Short Study…,- the reminiscence of a childhood event – is eventually quite close to your previous work so the different tone of this work is made by production and editing. The progressive writing of the story brings me back to the free association process used originally by the Surréalistes and in the psychoanalytical method. I think this work has something in common with this process. What do you think about it?
L.M. : Editing by itself brings about this kind of interpretations. Images are consecutive and links created between each scene stay from the viewer side in the sense where nothing is directly dictated in their own reading.
The measuring devices which are precise technic tools cannot be considered as they are. For example, in the case of time clock mecanism, shown during the film – where a red liquid warmed up by an electric resistance animates a wheel which winds the clock mecanism back up – creates an organic analogy with the heart image the voice talking: “I believed that the rhythm of the heart beating was set to the second hand of our watches. Every night I meticulously wound up the mechanism of my watch so that I might wake up in the morning to live another day. What once seemed absurd to me made sense later when I learned that the length of a second had originally been established by observing the distance between one heartbeat and the next”.
Image imposes the principle of free association in these conditions but I believe that the very principle of a story is the position of a speaker’s reciprocity. The narrator tells a story, brought from his own experience. With this story, he offers an experience for listeners. The viewer can also be the locutor because he has to use the already defined story to make his own, putting the story mecanism together to make sense.
S.M.: There are some elements of your previous works in Short study on the nature of things. I am thinking in particular of the photograph The Stream (2009), which shows a landscape quasi similar to your last film.We can also see a shooting of one of your works untitled Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette (2011). This reminder is very intriguing in the film, why have you used this image as it is?
L.M. : I used this sequence where we can see the face of Sainte Bernadette in close shot and where the focusing goes from eyes to mouth because I found interesting the paradoxe which shows the figure of Sainte Bernadette remaining incorrupted – it reifies the idea of the immortality of the soul. The face of Sainte Bernadette, who seems asleep and frozen in youth, appears in the film after we have seen the thawing of Briksdal glacier in Norway. I wanted to transpose this image of an icon, whose relics show its immortality of soul, on the very material of images, which also asks questions on the form of – namely, its preservation. In the installation Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette, several temporalities juxtapose : the 16 mm film, in a continous loop, where the film deteriorates during the period of exhibition and this figure of a petrified face, which stays in a slow motion time.
I use sometimes the same motives or the same texts. I can use sentences from the off screen voice of my films which, isolated, become titles of works. It’s a way for me to spread ideas or to open new understandings, where the meaning of the isolated idea will be different from its previous insertion in the story.
This intervew was made in July 2012.