History, Director's Cut. Radical Art by Jean-Gabriel Periot


We see this time and again in bad documentaries: marching "Pioniere" when the subject is children in the GDR. Stalinism represented by barbed wire and Marx busts, frrrrreedom by cheering crowds on the Berlin wall. Every Image brings its own meaning, displays it sleekly, and hey presto, there you have what they want, history, or the historic victory. Being on the side of the Losers is not mandatory to not recognize yourself in this kind of short circuit (but it helps).

It is precisely this way of looking at the world that Jean-Gabriel Périot sets himself against in his films. He takes hackneyed Images, brings them to a stop, dismantles them, puts them back together again, makes them move faster, slower or backwards, tears them out of context, adds a new one, questions, and constructs meanings. Here, at the end of all certainty and convention, revolutionary vigilance is called for. Periot shamelessly exploits the glut of Images that surrounds us: archive material, television recordings, advertising, paintings, photos (his own and those of others). He demonstrates how the Internet can be turned into an instrument of Liberation rather than enslavement.

This is about the Liberation of the Imagination once postulated by Critical Theory. In this sense, Jean-Gabriel Périot’s films quite apart from their content matter and the openly propagandistic titles - are deeply political at the core. The dominant language - in this case the visual language of mainstream media - is deconstructed as such, the Image recoded in a different way. The viewer is meant to learn to see "real" Images not as more or less natural and therefore true, but as products, always manufactured with a specific (political) intention. Périot sees Images as "documents"- material used to run poetic and metaphoric circles around reality. Though he never studied film, this connects him to filmmakers like Dziga Vertov, whom he reveres, Guy Debord and Santiago Alvarez. The theoretical foundation of his method, however, Is the "iconology of the interval" proposed by the German cultural theorist Aby Warburg, who in his visual atlas "Mnemosyne" was the first to assemble the most diverse images into a cultural historical document and who located "history" precisely in the "intervals" between two images. Périot: "Those dark and unexpected spaces were purposed to the viewers as spaces of liberty, the liberty for them to think
and to fill the missing links by their own thinking. There, in a time where media try obviously to make the audience not to think, is the place for some radical and political art."

But it's not only in his archive films that Périot plays the cheerful mainstream shredder: he also deliberately uses moments of insecurity and blanks in his own documentary images. In this - the best - sense, his works are animated documentaries. A term which (to our mind, too) is not defined by a Jew animated manikins running through the frame because no documentary material was available to the filmmaker. To animate something means to make it come alive, which is exactly what Périot does with the documents. Now that's what's real freedom.


Grit Lemke
DokLiepzig 2014