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Updated: Dec 7, 2021

For this second article about art direction, I will talk more about my personal work process. So much the better if my experience can inspire other artists or filmmakers.

Where I play, alone and freely

Because of my background in visual arts, I naturally approached the practice of video art with my usual way of working: that is to say, creating by experimenting, in the studio, alone with my intuitions and obsessions.

That’s why I didn’t embrace the generally accepted conception of art direction in cinema. Often, we think of art direction as a job that involves managing a team of designers working on a creative project. This is not my case. I manipulate all the elements that make up my videos : accessories, sets, costumes, lighting, etc., and I embody the characters who evolve in them. In addition, I do the video and sound editing myself.

Artistic direction is therefore not for me a "department" within a production. I consider my practice as a whole, without distinction. Communication between my different departments is very fluid ! We get along well ! The director laughs with the producer having fun with the artistic director listening to the screenwriter, etc.

Artistic direction often starts from the analysis of a written script, is subject to a story, in a certain space and a certain time. While I work in the imprecise, to be defined along the way and without being bound by an objective of realism. Like an open channel, I let myself be guided. Could these white wigs represent a forest? And after that ?

In my way of proceeding in video art, what can be described as artistic direction is not only omnipresent, but determines the course and the coherence of the work in development. Because it is the amalgamation of the various elements, lighting, props, action, gestures, colors, etc. who writes the "history" which is unfolding little by little. I only keep from the notion of artistic direction the search for a visual aesthetic and for an emotional tone to convey.

But why on earth would I prefer to work alone while there are so much talented people out there ?

If I was to work with a team, even a small one, I would have to structure my process more (design everything in advance, prepare a strict work schedule, etc.), which is not my way of doing things. And I would feel less free to experiment. Because my process is intuitive. I often have as a starting point just a glimpse, an image or a material that calls out to me, an improvised movement in front of the camera. I don't know where I am going and what it will look like in the end. The meaning that emerges appears to me afterwards.

Looking at the photos of my studio that accompany this article, it is easy to understand the environment in which I work. My studio is a large playground, a research laboratory, with at hand a multitude of elements to manipulate (and a performer always available !) in order to create sequences to be arranged simultaneously in the editing software.

That’s why the way I work suits me so well. And no one can do it for me, get inside my head, navigate into my universes.

I could build a script from these edits and experiments and then work with a real film crew. But I would feel like I'm repeating myself, only redoing what has already been done. Whereas what interests me is the unforeseen, the unexpected, the discovery. No doubt my way of proceeding reflects my personal touch and gives me the right to make mistakes – which in return have a large creative potential. And this independence is to be preserved, alone, in the studio.

About the Author:

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 experimental video in which she brings together writing, installation and performance to illustrate her symbolic universes. She has been involved for over 15 years in the art magazine ESSE as coordinator and editor. From 2000 to 2017, she also developed the LEVIER and ROUAGE programs of the Engrenage Noir organization, which works to support community action art. She has published a monograph, “Naviguer malgré tout” [Navigating despite everything], retracing her practice from 1986 to 2015.

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