04 April 2008

Interview: MICHEL LEMIEUX of 4D Art

In line with the ethos that SiouxWIRE advocates, Michel Lemieux's creations merge media and span class. Founding Lemieux.Pilon 4D Art in 1983, directors Michel Lemiux and Victor Pilon combine performing arts with new media to create a hybrid show merging performance, scenography, cinema, video, dance, poetry, visual arts, lighting design, music and sound. The results are striking and coherent.

Here is an example from their latest performance. Note that this clip has no post production. The visuals were filmed as they were on stage.

Presenting more than 300 performances since its creation, Lemiux.Pilon 4D Art has worked internationally and in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. Their latest project, Norman is a tribute to Norman McLaren and the history of art animation.

Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon are currently working on the opera version of Starmania by Luc Plamondon and Michel Berger that will be presented during the festivities of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City with performances on the 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, and 26 of May 2008.

As well as introducing their work to South America in Bogota, Columbia, Lemieux.Pilon 4D Art will also be taking Norman on tour this year.

Michel very kindly agreed to be interviewed in Fall 2007, but due to some technical difficulties it has taken some time to release this interview. Enjoy.

What was the inspiration and purpose of your establishment of 4d Art in 1983?
The inspiration was to merge different forms of expression, such as visual arts, dance, theater, cinema, music, in the context of performing arts. One can say that Opera is doing so for centuries, I think in fact ancient Greek theater was quite multi-disciplinarian. Specialisation came later and confined the different mediums to a highly specialized form. All mediums of representation represent in fact a possible way to approach creativity. In our times, I think we are ready to put things in relation, in interpenetration with each other.

And how did your collaboration with Victor Pilon begin? And how do you feel the two of you compliment each other?
Victor has been in visual fine arts for a while when we met. I have studied in theater, so our interest and competences were so compatible that we started to work together in a very natural way. We could say that this more than 20 years collaboration is a based on a very strong friendship that helped us to become what we are as humans and artists.

In general, we do all concepts and direction together, Vic would more specialised in space elements such as artistic direction, visual arts, and I would be more focused on «time» elements, such as music , editing, timing but in fact we share all the aspects of the creation in consensual way.

"When we intellectualised too much in advance we tend to be less in our element."

In blurring the borders of artistic expression, what discoveries have you made in terms of expression? And what do you feel have been most successful and have there been any failures in your mind?
We are at our best when we work in a intuitive way! When we intellectualise too much in advance we tend to be less in our element. As for dancers, our expression is processed through our bodies, our emotive self before it get through to our intellect. Universality is for us not just an idea but more of a emotive state, that transcends intellect.

What led to Soleil de Minuit and your further collaborations with Cirque du Soleil? And what did you learn from these collaborative projects?
We did different artistic consultation work for Cirque before we embarked on a large scale project like Soleil de Minuit. We have been creating different big scale outdoor event in the past, such as a night parade with 1500 performers for a 200,000 crowd in the streets, and other such big outside events for the Montreal Jazz Festival for example, using streets and buildings as the setting. Delirium, which is on tour in Europe right now, is our most ambitious touring creation so far.

Would you tell us about your production Norman featuring the animated works of Norman McLaren combined with performer/choreographer Peter Trosztmer. How did this project develop and would you tell us about the interaction between Peter and Norman’s animations both in practical and artistic terms?
We are fans of Norman McLaren films since childhood, so it was a very inspiring project to create a kind of homage to him and his creation. This project was planned since years, but we did The Tempest and Delirium in the mean time. McLaren said many times that if he would not be a film-maker he would have liked to be a dancer, so the choice of Peter Troszmer was an obvious one.

After directing a team of more then 200 persons ( more then 50 on stage) for Delirium, we really wanted to come back to an intimate process of creation. It was such a pleasure to be only a couple of artists working in this creation process, shortening the «interface» between us and the creation. It is important for us to alternate bigger and smaller scope projects, to keep track of the real base of creation, which is basically a collaborative exchange of ideas and emotions between artist and the public.

Peter is a luminous person and along with Thea Paterson and us as directors, he created the choreographic aspect of the show. His relation with the film is very personal and of course admirative of the immense body of work of Norman McLaren.

In regards to Delirium, you’ve said it was based on an “urban tribal beat” and your explanation of this is interesting touching on how human beings live in an urban setting. How have the various locations where you’ve visited and lived impacted you and your work?
The great Desmond Morris said once that even if we live in big cities, we tend to have something like 150 important persons in our personal phone/internet book. 150 relatives, friends or acquaintances that represent in fact our «virtual» tribe dispersed in the city and in the world trough travelling and internet.

The ancestral village, the tribe concept is very active even in this very anonymous world we live in. The difference with our ancestors is that we do not require proximity to establish the links. But I think personally that physical presence is still very important to really exchange feelings and emotions.

Over the years, you’ve built up quite a repertoire of work. Are there any works which stand out in your mind or marked key events in your development as an artist?
Of course, the first projects in one's career are founding blocks for the rest to come. Because I live more in the present and the future, I tend to say that our next project will be the most significant ! As an artist and as humans we change and hopefully evolve through time!!!

Some years ago on the French arts channel Mezzo in Prague, I saw several performances by a dance group (their name escapes me and indeed, you may have been involved) who made use of projection and illusion in their narratives. What are your feelings when you see your work inspiring others?
The world becoming a smaller and smaller village, everyone could inspire others. We worked years ago on a performance called «Pôles» , maybe that is the work you are relating to. Anyway, I think interpenetration of the creative fabric is a incredible good thing for humanity.

The marriage of the technical and artistic has typically met with resistance. Why do you think that is?
Fear of the unknown, of course ! That feeling is creating wars, racism, etc. It creates as well neophobia ; fear of the exploration of new territory. It is very disturbing for conservative people to experience new things, so they tend to deny it.

New technology and ideas apply to art is a very old process, in fact it may be at the core of artistic expression. Think about the first visual arts in ancient caves, the incredibly well designed ancient Greek theatres, the invention of very complex musical instruments such as a violin or a piano which appears nowadays like very «classical» means but where in fact a pure new technology when it was invented.

"As a spectator I want to be touched by what I experience."

What do you think the individual mediums which make up your hybrid performances can learn from your methods?
I think that the boundaries between mediums are illusions, like the frontiers between countries and people! Look at a terrestrial globe and you will see that these are only illusionary drawing lines. As a spectator I want to be touched by what I experience. It could be only by one actor on an empty stage or by a integration of different mediums. I think all artists have to be very true to themselves and use whatever they feel is right for their expression. At the end, the medium should disappear to let the expression flow without any «blocking» of the interface ; the mediums used in the creation.

What artistic disciplines do you practice and what do you feel are some of the strengths of the individual disciplines and how are they different when combined in a multidisciplinary piece?
Victor and me are what you can call «specialists» of multidisciplinary creation ! Our work is on the merging , the point of «melting» of the different mediums and artists we work with. Multidisciplinary creation is not a juxtaposition but a kind of multiplication of mediums ; creating an expression that would be impossible otherwise. But this is not a dogma ! Specialised artists are still very inspiring and important. You have to follow your instinct and ours is multi disciplinarian.

How important would you say accessibility is to art? And what do you think about the gradation of art between “high brow” and “low brow”? Does it serve any purpose and is it in any way constructive?
I think art is very important for all mankind! It is often the expression of our the collective unconscious. The difference between high and low art is just another expression of insecure privileged people. I am writing this while we are in tour in the north of Mexico with the show «Norman». in a festival which is giving away all the tickets for all the indoor shows. It is my first experience of a such democratic festival, which is subsidised by the state. I find it incredibly inspiring that we will perform in a very large «chic» theater for people that are not very used to that. I wish there would more state initiatives like that!

Is it important to you that your work can be widely enjoyed and appreciated across a diverse audience from children to adults and across nationality?
Yes of course. You never know when you will touch someone in a deep manner. Sometimes people come to us to talk about the strong impact on there life did a creation we did many many years ago. In time of existential personal questioning, this is a good reminder of the purpose of your work in society. Artists cannot change the world but can touch some individuals, sometimes in a deep way.

How would you say your work compares to dance and theatre presented in more spartan environments? And how do you avoid overshadowing the narrative and performance with effects in your work? (Indeed, Norman seems to be a one-on-one performance between dancer + animation)
We try to work on a «meeting» point of the real world of real artists on stage and the virtual world of projected imagery. This «shock» between life and dreams is a very rich one to explore. In fact I think more and more artists such as movie makers are exploring it right now. It should be an opening on a more philosophical or even spiritual way to approach life and reality as we define it.

What do you see as the future of your work? And generally speaking, will multi-disciplinary work be more common?
You see multi disciplinarians more and more in scientific teams of researchers as in teams of artists. It could be a expression of a will to experience things in a more global way. Opera and cinema are already very multidisciplinary forms of art. Our generation did not invent it, we just follow and explore what other did before us.

What are you working on now and are there any projects or collaborations which you would like to pursue in future?
In fact, Victor and me are working on an opera right now! It is very inspiring to work with symphonic music. This will be a new creation but the style of the music is mostly neo-classical, with all the lyricism and beauty it involved. It will open next May in Canada, so we are right in the middle of the creation of it!


Thank you, Michel.

Lemieux.Pilon 4D Art
John Lambert Associates
Opera de Québec

Cirque du Soleil

Digital Performance Archive
Norman McLaren Wiki

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