We Are Winning, Don’t Forget: Short works by Jean-Gabriel Périot


Jean-Gabriel Périot played his collage films at ATA last night. Poetic and unnerving, the images rain onto the screen; they layer on top of one another. He has pulled them from the archives, but they look different now, arresting. I stared as Hiroshima evaporated and rebuilt. I watched the faces of the Civil Rights Movement, not the famous ones, but regular people, in quick succession and with powerful music, like an advertising campaign. For what? The subjects are political, but these are not protest films. They are about the act of seeing. The films pull these images out of their context and they force us to look.

I was at an opening recently and a friend said, “I don’t like political art.” What an absurd thing to say, I thought. What you mean is not that you don’t like political art, but that you don’t like didactic art. People are so touchy about being told what to think, about being made to feel guilty. These films are not guilty of that, and yet they call our attention to the politics. They put us into a political arena, and this is significant. We are living in a time of widespread apathy, when the political landscape looks so bleak that artists have either holed up in the personal or joined the camp of some topical issue. We are in the era of the social justice film.

Périot’s work is neither topical nor personal. It makes space for a political comment but it remains open. The title track, We Are Winning Don’t Forget, shows simply that we live in a state of conflict. It shows the violence, and it seems to ask, to what end?

In the Q&A after the screening, Jean-Gabriel made fun of two of the films, because they were simplistic, because they had a message wrapped up in their visual trickery. Those films were jokes, he explained. The serious work has no message; it ends in the question.

The images are not new. We have seen them before, but always with a voiceover, a lulling commentary that prevents us from looking straight at the pictures; we see them through the prism of our culture. I had seen the post-war footage of French women being shaved in the public square, but there was always a narrative, a historical context that formed a buffer for my emotion. When you remove the context, the power of the image is raw.

The last film in the series is a narrative short, with weighted and deliberate acting that threatens to drag the bottom out of it. The style makes a sharp departure from the earlier work, yet in its tension and its language, this last film is the key. With circular and deliberate concentration, it offers instructions for this peculiar way of seeing: one must watch the stream of pictures with eyes open, with wonder, and with forgiveness.


By Lizzy
ATA, April 2013