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Exclusive Interview with Johanne Chagnon

Biography: For more than thirty years, Johanne Chagnon has adopted a diversified artistic practice that calls on several mediums, in addition to exploring various forms of distribution and various types of presentation venues, often unconventional. More recently, she has turned to art video in which she can bring together her past experiences. Her videos have won several nominations in various festivals around the world. She also writes articles for the Silver Mask Live Festival website (Los Angeles) and is a jury member of the Paris Film Awards. She has been involved for over 15 years in the art magazine ESSE as coordinator and editor. From 2000 to 2017, she also developed Engrenage Noir, an organization which works to support community action art. Last year, she published the monograph «Naviguer malgré tout [Navigate anyway]» which traces her practice from 1986 to 2015.

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First of all, it's a pleasure talking to you! How has your relationship with cinema been throughout your life? It has been changing? I would first like to point out that I am an interdisciplinary artist from the visual arts community, and have been for more than thirty years. I dedicate myself to video art (also called experimental video). In the beginning, the video served me as a documentation tool, especially for performance art. Little by little, I became interested in this medium, which is interdisciplinary by its essence. In 2017, I set aside all collective activities in the field of community art to do nothing other than my artistic practice. At this pivotal moment, video imposed itself as an opportunity for combining different disciplines (photography, drawing, writing, sculpture, voice, movement). And since I no longer present live performances in front of an audience, I can at least continue that practice in front of a camera.

How would you define your experience as a filmmaker? What things do you think you have found and what things have you lost along the way? I naturally create by experimenting in my studio, alone with my intuitions and obsessions. I manipulate all the elements of my videos: accessories, sets, costumes, lighting, etc., and I embody the characters who evolve in them. In addition, I also do the editing (footage and sound). Like an open channel, I let myself be guided without being bound by realism. The "story" unfolds gradually with the integration of the different components. If I was to deal with a team, even a small one, I would have to structure in advance my process by preparing a strict work schedule, which is not my way of doing things. Which would make me feel less free to experiment. What I have found : * I discovered personal universes that I could not create otherwise. Mastering all the steps of a project has led me to unearth other facets of my interiority and to encounter the dark corners that I carry. * I was able to reach out to new video art networks and meet inspiring people. * I have deepened my knowledge of the history of experimental video and cinema, which fuelled me to push the medium in unexplored ways. What I have lost: * I no longer have direct contact with an audience during exhibitions or performances. And with the pandemic, it’s worse: the viewers of my videos, which are shown online or in festivals where I can't go, are an abstract entity.

What were the first films (or figures) that achieved a high effect on you?

There are many, but I will mention two. Several years ago, I had been impressed by Robert Wiene’s « The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari » (1920). Its dark and twisted visual style conveyed the emotional state of the characters more effectively than realistic locations or conventional design concepts. Later, at the Cinémathèque française in Paris, I saw elements of the real set of this film and I was fascinated by the rustic quality of the materials used which, when transposed to the screen, could thus seem magically transformed. A few years after, the video artist Bill Viola showed me that I should not be afraid to go where my experiments led me, no matter how dark they were (at the time, I was making short humorous videos, for fear of annoying the audience). And as a master of slow motion, he also taught me to be confident and to adapt all the time required by the artwork.

Tell us about the preparation processes of your projects. What were the most complex or difficult things you had to solve during filming (technically and/or emotionally)?

Initially appears an intention that is still unclear. I set up the camera and take a test. Then I print stills from the captured footage and examine them. Two tools come to my aid: writing and drawing. I write freely according to what these images may suggest. This exercise allows me to glimpse possible "narratives", which contribute to enriching the developing universe. I also draw while looking at these pictures. Drawing brings out other types of ideas than those generated by writing. Based on these creative reviews, I go back to the camera and shoot again. The same process is repeated until the final result. However, I do not work in a linear manner, but rather in phases, sometimes successive, sometimes parallel. A draft of editing develops simultaneously. I also outline some sort of storyboard based on the images, in order to give me a visual overview. I constantly place and move them to create a poetically coherent ensemble according to my personal logic. Therefore the video takes shape through an incessant and dynamic dialogue between an idea and its realization. The most complex or difficult things, technically: Becoming friends with the camera, developing confidence in front of the editing software. To overcome this sort of paralysis, I pushed myself to make a short video every day. I ended up producing 200! This challenge enabled me to show more spontaneity and to freely explore various creative avenues. The most complex or difficult things, emotionally: Be more myself, regardless of the outcome. Without thinking about how my work will be perceived.

Are you preparing the next project? What can you tell us?

I am always experimenting and preparing projects, often with several drafts at the same time. This is an ongoing process, with ups and downs, but I persist, always interested in pushing further the characteristics of video graphics language. My immediate goal is to better integrate the disciplines that interest me in the same video project. For example, I began adding watercolor drawings and inserting text fragments, and I intend to better blend these elements in my videos.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak with you!

We will be attentive to your next works!

Johanne Chagnon´s Filmography: Watch the trailers!

2022 FIND RELIEF, color, 4: 59

2021 SCRAGGLINESS, color, 5:00

2021 FASCINATION, color, 4: 47

2020 DISRUPT, color, 2: 00

2020 A WORLD TURNED AROUND, color, 1: 12

2019 A WALK IN THE FOREST, color, 7:39

2018 CARING FOR YOUR CARCASS, color, 11: 11

2018 UNEARTH THE LANDSCAPE, color, 11: 17

2018 AT HE DAWN OF SPEAKING, color, 1:00

You can contact her through the following official means:

Official Website:


Madrid Film Awards I Press Team

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