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Interview with Michel Gondry

As a collaboration between visual artist Pierre Bismuth and Michel Gondry, the exhibition “The All-seeing eye (the Hardcore-techno version)”at London’s BFI Southbank runs until November 23, 2008. Paola Noè asked Michel Gondry to tell Flash Art how he became one of the most popular directors in the contemporary art field.

Paola Noé: I think that in all your work (video, film, installation) it is more important for you to present the process rather than the result of the project. You focus on the action moment, or the pragmatic intention. What do you think?

Michel Gondry: I agree. For instance, I think that Science Des Rêves (2006) dealt more with the creative process in relation to amorous feelings. On the other hand, Be Kind Rewind (2008) deals with how creative processes relate to everything we do without us even realizing it, without being conscious of it. As for the importance of thinking of creativity as process rather than as product, it was not my intention to reflect on the subject in my work, it just kind of happened. When I thought about narrative, at least in the past two movies, it naturally happened that I would write about what I know best: the creative process. [Here Gondry speaks in reference to the two movies written by him, as opposed to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2007), which was written by Charlie Kauffman]

PN: There is something imperfect in your films, something old, but at the same time something that looks ahead to the future. This is especially true in Science Des Rêves, but also in your last film [Be Kind Rewind].

MG: This is probably because [in Be Kind Rewind] the creative process I represented on the screen does not fit in with the “official” productive system. Rather, this creative process reaches an unfinished ending, an imperfect result. The goal was not to present a blockbuster film. On the contrary, the film is about showing someone who, in his everyday life, can put together a film. It’s about imagining what the result could be.

PN: You can always see “the trick” in your films, as well as in your videos. I think it’s the same in contemporary art today: it’s important to be able to see “the trick” of doing, of the creative process.

MG: Absolutely. It’s an inspiration that came by watching Georges Mélies’s films. His films are incredibly ingenious considering the time in which they were produced. In Mélies’s films the mechanism of production is always exposed and available for interpretation. They are like actual magic tricks, within which you can always tell the trick. [Mélies’s career started out as an illusionist]. That is why I decided to share the construction process involved in the realization of the film with my spectators.

PN: Why did you go back to analog technology and magnetic tapes in today’s completely digital time?

MG: Today there’s a fondness for nostalgia. There are still many people who make videos on tape, as well as some video clubs, and many people who would not be able to make videos if it weren’t for tapes, because they don’t know how to. In this production, we pay respect to all these people.

PN: In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and then in Science Des Rêves you reference some of your earlier work, like Tiny, or the documentary I’ve Been Twelve Forever (2003). Why this return to the past?

MG: I like going back and preserving the flavor of that special time. Through the creative process I have the chance to go back to those years, when there was magic in the possibility of discovering many things. Today I work hard to recover all of that.

PN: You had your second exhibit at Deitch in New York: “The Science of Sleep: An Exhibition of Sculpture and Creepy Pathological Little Gifts”. Have you now been “consecrated” by the contemporary art scene?

MG: I don’t think so. I did something that could be labeled as artistic because it took place a Deitch. But I don’t consider myself an artist. On that occasion I proposed a project within which all visitors could build their own film, through a very simple active protocol. People had at their disposal a camera, and could create their own film and then look at it with friends. If that’s art, then I am an artist.

PN: What is the difference between these two exhibitions and the 2005 video installation “The All Seeing Eye”, in which you collaborated with Pierre Bismuth?

MG: For that installation, there was a concept on which we worked together: for me, that was a real contemporary art project, because a concept was expressed in it.

PN: What is your relationship with Pierre Bismuth like?

MG: We have been friends for many years, and we still exchange ideas often. After my success with the Science Des Rêves, I have worked with other artists. Most of them, however, have no desire to share their ideas. In the future, Pierre and I might work together again.

PN: Thanks to TV commercials, advertising and video, you have created a particular relationship with spectators.

MG: Yes, I think it’s a good way to get closer to cinema: with video it is easier to make the spectator participate directly in the production process of the film.

PN: It seems to me like something from your earlier films and video clips is no longer there in your current work: I am talking about your work with rhythm. If I think of the White Stripes video, or the one for Daft Punk, there is a particular way in which you play with the images and sound bits you use. Today I find the sound and musical narration in your films to be more linear.

MG: I started by exploring rhythm through a very literal and specific correspondence of music and images. Then I decided to take a different direction.

PN: There’s a line in Science Des Rêves that says that the brain is the most important thing because it is always behind the nose. What is more important for you, heart or brain? Imagination or rationality?

MG: I try to maintain a balance between the two: emotions and feelings are important, but so are intellect, research and originality. Be Kind Rewind begins as a rather simple comedy, with very immediate gags, but the film ends with a reflection on the lives of young people, on the concept of finitude.

PN: What’s it like working with Jack Black?

MG: Jack is really dynamic: he always offers new solutions, and has a personal approach to what he does. He has got ideas and is very proactive.

PN: What are your upcoming projects?

MG: I am writing a project with my friend Gabriel Bell. I am also finishing up Interior Design in Japan, part of a film trilogy in which directors Joon-ho Bong (Shaking Tokyo) and Leos Carax (Merde) are also participating.

PN: If you could have total freedom, what would you do in the contemporary art world?

MG: There are certain images I would like to build, ones that relate music to visual imagery: they are strange machines I have been thinking about for a long time.

by Paola Noé