Poetic Re-Evolution: An Interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Pascale Montandon
All artworks by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Pascale Montandon, 2012, mixed on paper.
The following originally appeared in the first issue of The Third Eye.
Created by four hands, a third artist is born. It is the child of cult Chilean filmmaker and multiple artist Alejandro Jodorowsky and his wife, artist and scenographer Pascale Montandon. For the past few years, Jodorowsky and Montandon have been working together to produce a surprising series of works. The artistic communion, first drawn by Jodorowsky and then infused with colour by Montandon, levitates between fantasy, tragedy, humor and spirituality -- all of which recall the essence of mysticism and symbolic theatrics in Jodorowsky's films.
Rising to international countercultural acclaim with his peyote western El Topo in 1970 and The Holy Mountain in 1973, his artistic trajectory has shifted through circus, mime, theatre, cinema, poetry, philosophy, alchemy, the Tarot and the creation of an artistic therapy that Jodorowsky baptised "Psychomagic." Montandon's own body of work explores the immaterial and impermanent summoning the sublime and celestial in drawing and painting. Having previously collaborated together in a performance in Paris entitled A Spiritual Journey, Jodorowsky-Montandon's works on paper stage surreal scenes of a story of unity, fluctuation and balance between the Yin and the Yang, universal interconnected poles of existence. The phenomenon is manifested -- as male and female, body and soul, nature and human, violence and peace, reality and illusion, Ego and Other, and so forth. United in their fearless attitude against the industry and a resolute optimism for the future, they travel around the world together from Spain to Mexico, where Jodorowsky is called upon to perform collective Psychomagic acts and rituals of peace. Theirs is a canvas experiencing art as a spirituality, a potent medicine, and sacred rebellion transcending all limits.
Sophie Pinchetti: Your collaborative work seems to converge around spirituality. Where does your interest come from?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: Spirituality is abstract. True art leads you to the discovery of your spirit. It's not the quest, it's the application, the practice of spirituality.
Pascale Montandon: In the same way I was simply going to say that it is a way of being in the world, a way of living. And obviously when you do an artistic work, the material of work is oneself. So the deepest questions are posed naturally, and when you work with someone else, you go on to the questions around your relationship, of sublimation. I think that in every artistic work, questions are not asked before. It's almost like the work itself makes you discover what it is that you are working on.
AJ: There is an attitude: either you are a merchant, or a person seeking glory, or you are a true artist. If you are a pure artist, your search will be ‘What is art?' ‘What is pure?' Pure is a thing that is absolutely, totally itself. In the artistic work process, starting is difficult because it requires an awakening to consciousness. At the essence of art is the research of art, search in its purest state.
AJ: This is where I admire Pascale because she explains less. I'm quite literary, I love poetry. So to seduce Pascale, I started to draw, to create something with her. I introduce things that are exotic, but at the same time, with the way the world is now, it's sometimes necessary to express things that are not just purely paintings -- we can express ideas. But only for social, humanitarian or personal reasons -- we make that sacrifice to make things impure because people need to be brought to conscience.
How do you elaborate your series?
AJ: We started by having fun, didn't we? I propose a drawing to her, if she likes it, she will paint it in colour. If she doesn't like it, she refuses.
PM: I never refuse anything [laughs].
AJ: We are lucky. She never refuses anything, but she should [laughs].
PM: The particularity of this work in common is that half of the work arrives. Alexandro does the drawing and gives it to me. I wouldn't do it for anyone else but him. Because at the same time, it's the taking of possession of a universe, of appropriation in some way. It's a formidable experience. The colours arrive like in a dream. Now that the work exists, it's like a child - it's time for it to grow.
What are the themes of your works in collaboration?
PM: He was drawing the ‘Fábulas Pánicas' years ago in Mexico for El Heraldo de México. His drawings become mythical, but it's one of the least well-known parts of Alexandro's work. He is known mostly as filmmaker, and writer, but I dug them out of his old boxes. I found incredible grace in all of his drawings, a unique writing. It made him want to start drawing again. But in a completely private manner, just for himself. Then he started proposing that I do the colours -- that it would become a collaborative work. It was neither him or I. It became like the creation of a third artist. I had never thought of my work in terms of theme, my work has a very abstract personality. Alexandro comes with his phantasmagoric, psychoanalytical universe -- he brings me all this -- and in this way it induces a work of colour that I had never conceived of. It nourished me. But it is Alexandro that gives the "traction" point, like he calls it, because he is the first to draw. Me, I follow his story, I reveal it but he is the one who gives the cue.
AJ: We can really say that plastically you are my master. I learn from you, I follow you humbly. I am your disciple. It's a discovery. Every time I do a drawing, I have an immense curiosity to see what you are going to do. I am surprised every time.
PM: I've always felt that coming into art was like a religion. I did it in quite a radical manner, almost austere, like a prayer dedicated to the world in a subliminal sense. With Alexandro, there is something with his aura, that acts directly in a frontal manner.
AJ: In my biography (The Dance of Reality) there is a chapter called ‘Theatre as a Religion'. Every artistic thing I have done, I have undertaken like a religion -- first it was dance, mime, then theatre, cinema, poetry...
What have been your experiences with symbolism?
AJ: I started using symbols when I was four or five years old in fairy tale stories. I learned to read when I was four -- I read all this fantasy literature. My parents were atheists but gave me an erotic book for when I would be older. They would tell me ‘You will grow up, then you will rot, and that is all'. It was desperate. So I started using symbols my whole life. The Tarot came later. After surrealism, I did the Panik theatre movement in Chile, then happenings in the Sixties, I never stopped. All of this is the product of a long trajectory -- Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, seduction, the Kabbalah, alchemy, my symbolic cinema...
PM: I don't know where it came from but as a child, I always had this kind of fantasy that you are born as a closed book and existence makes you reveal things that you have within yourself, that you already know in a certain way. I have always felt this sensation of being guided. I saw everything as signs. I don't believe in fate. The meeting with Alexandro, I knew an encounter like this one was going to happen. The artistic approach developed like this for me.
Do you see art as an expression of the sacred, of spirituality in a sacred sense?
PM: Yes, I think that in every artistic aspiration, artistic work, artistic approach, there is something that has to do with our relation to the sacred. The sacred, not necessarily to do with a religion from which we came from, but to do with our relation the world, to the invisible, to the impalpable, to the cosmic forces of the world -- call it what you will -- I believe it is profoundly about this connection.
AJ: I believe profoundly in the human being. I think that our time has a sickness. Art has the goal to bring us back to consciousness, that means spirituality. So I say that an art is only an art when it can heal. I have done it to myself, and to others. Healing means to bring us to a superior degree of being. This is the goal of art. When art is sincerely critical, it awakens. But it does not make you move forward. But the goal of art is not only to show what is wrong, it's to also show what is good. Art of value changes you for the better. Not the one that provokes a revolution -- that is not the aim of art, that is the aim of politics. Art is not political or politics. We must not confuse them. Art must take one to beauty, outside of criticism.
In many ways, authenticity is missing today -- and it has to do with the consciousness.
PM: Absolutely. Today, contemporary art has become sociological, communicative, political, almost like marketing coups. And finally, with this constant search for the coups, the hits, the form, we have lost the deeper meaning, the relationship with the sacred, and spirituality. Contemporary art is like a game of mirrors. But it is ultimately reductive. Art must not just be a representation of what is society.
AJ: I saw a photo of a racecourse car stuck to the wall. This is the sickness of the game. When someone signs their name, they kill art. Everyone is in the readymade, accumulations of objects. But that is a critical, political attitude. A true artist is not ‘anti', he is pro-painting, pro-poetry. He is pro, not anti.
PM: For this type of action, it had value once, when it was done for the first time.
PM: Today, it's commonplace in all galleries and museums around the world to see an art that is denouncing and militant. But something that goes towards the sublime, towards the search for pure beauty, this has become subversive and increasingly rare. We don't authorise ourselves to do something of that order anymore. We have lost that sense.
AJ: Because there is the crisis, the war, the pollution, it's all part of the symptoms of the destruction of our civilisation. Either you make a cadaver, or you make a butterfly. There is the attitude -- either you do everything so that things will die, or you do things for a mutation. I am working for mutation.
I am thinking about that phrase that you wrote - ‘Not revolution, but poetic re-evolution'.
AJ: This is where we are. An artist is not a politician. He is not a Che Guevara. We need to bring things back to the way they are. Obviously with Marxism, the Cultural Revolution in China, the revolution in Russia, it was about the people, the voice of the people. And so to speak about pure art in such a way, it was bourgeois, it was to be an assassin -- to speak of the superiority of the human being, all that. But what did the Cultural Revolution really give China? Contemporary China is a completely capitalist society. I am not going to create a tree that will please China. I am not going to create a tree that will please the Americans, to the exaltation of the dollar, of violence. I refuse. It is time to create a tree that exalts the human spirit. I say ‘I'...But it is ‘we' isn't it?
PM: All the revolutions broke with something that was obsolete or condemnable, but to establish something much worse. If people do not change, nothing can change.
AJ: What we need now is a spiritual, mental change, a total change. Politics have expired. Economy has expired. Religion has expired.
PM: For us, it's to make the message of love heard, that beauty exists, that the sublime is the way.
The system is so omnipresent. People think and operate only on a Cartesian level.
AJ: Those are men. The only hope in the world now lies with women. Men have tortured the world. We are walking on one leg, and it is a catastrophe. Democracy has become a tyranny of the mediocre. They are killing the planet, they do not understand anything. The mediocre are cynical. They are traitors to humanity. They are superficial, they play the game of the decadence. There is a deficiency of love in mankind. It's a lack of love for themselves, and therefore for mankind. The situation in which we are in makes us become cynical, egoists and profiteers. Parasites. Millions of parasites.
Do you see a movement towards an expansion, evolution of consciousness?
AJ: I see it in myself. So it exists [laughs]. I am convinced it exists because I am like this. I am a human being. So if a human being can be like me, then we are saved.
PM: We're in a perpetual atmosphere of rampant cynicism which is so contagious. When I spoke of contagious cynicism, positivism is also contagious.
AJ: I did a collective psycho-shamanic act in Mexico City in November. They came, 7,000 of them, wanting to do something positive. A ritual of peace. It's not that we are thinking only in our own little space. We need to start changing the world.
How do you integrate the artistic aspect into Psychomagic?
PM: Alexandro invented Psychomagic. It's more than a concept, it's a therapy. Now he is doing collective psychomagic for groups and countries. Since he does it in a completely generous and kind manner, people know that they can ask him for an act. He is fundamentally an artist, so he acts as a therapist like an artist. With a pure poetic, artistic creation. It also shows that art is not something for a bourgeois elite, reserved for museums, or something that is accessory. It's something fundamental in our society. It can change a society. And this is what he is putting into action today. We are the spectators of this thing at work on the world and this is wonderful.
AJ: I've done collective Psychomagic acts in New York, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and now also Spain.
Can you explain your notion of Psychomagic?
AJ: We are in a world that works with the rational. So when you are a child, you are blocked by way of upbringing. Blocked into a system. You're a man, you're a woman. This is how a woman should move, how a man should move. So we are blocked.
The limits transmitted through a family or a culture create a limited being. A limited being is not grown. He suffers and it causes diseases -- psychological and repression. So Psychomagic tries to open the limits which are ingrained in you. Psychoanalysis works with words -- it interprets the world of dreams and the unconscious consciously with words and the rational. It explains. I do the opposite. I will teach the irrational in the conscious world, it's like surrealism. You will do things you have never done before. Do your revolution of the forbidden, the restricted. Psychomagic never forbids, it heals. There are thousands of acts I have done in this way -- healing through acts.
So do you see art as medicine?
PM: Art becomes therapeutic, revealing. It acts. By shaking you up, it decodes or reveals something that you have within yourself, in an enlightening way.
AJ: Art is a direct path from the soul to the soul.
Do you believe that you are able to attain a collective unconscious through these acts?
AJ: I act, I am trying. But it's difficult, Psychomagic develops little by little, from a small thing to things much more complex. Collective Psychomagic has now begun.
PM: It's visible because there are returns, it happened through acts and people's testimonies of their experiences. People are transformed, they say so themselves. But even with a pictorial work or drawing, there is still something that works. You can't describe it, it's part of the mystery of the encounter. It doesn't belong to us anymore, but it has an effect -- or at least one hopes it does. When it is authentic and honest, it works.
AJ: If you create your own audience, it is possible. The audience must be created. Don't look for an audience that exists. Or you do American cinema! Because that one that looks to win over its audience. It's perverse. They are poisoning art now, like some kind of weapon of conquest. The only response to that, it's to create an audience. Outside of the industry.
Alejandro Jodorowsky and Pascale Montandon's series of new works from 2012 were presented as part of the exhibition ‘Resisting the Present, Mexico 2000/2012' at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, France.
Danza de la Realidad
Based on his autobiographical book of the same name, Jodorowsky's new film, La Danza de la Realidad, is in production in his childhood hometown of Tocopilla, a small town in northern Chile. The film will trace memories and significant events of his childhood, including a fireman's burial, the old Masonic Library where he learned the Tarot, an epileptic seizure, an old circus, a Chinese prince's singing and a revelation of Surrealism -- when his father threw his fried eggs to his mother's head and they landed on a horrible painting, the yolks sticking and looking like two suns. Jodorowsky is involving some local transvestites and an opera singer.
Everyone can participate in the production of La Danza de la Realidad by donation - as an independent film, Jodorowsky announced donations to the film as a ‘holy beggary to rebuke the whorish film industry'.
For more information visit the film's site http://www.ladanza.cl and Plano Creativo, Jodorowsky's personal online journal, and Jodorowsky's updates at www.twitter.com/#!/alejodorowsky.