A life ideal: Interview with the painter Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

By Marilyne Buda

Translation by Jessica Sequeira

El uno hacia el otro’, by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky and Alejandro Jodorowsky

Nearby the Bastille in District XII of Paris, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky – the French artist and life companion of Alejandro Jodorowsky – receives me in her apartment. Pascale answers my questions with a disarming sweetness and sincerity.

Ventana Latina: Pascale, you’ve just published the book La realidad de mi danza, edited in three languages (Spanish, French and English), in which you talk about your relationship with art. What can you tell us about this book?

Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky: The idea for the book was born during the filming of Alejandro’s film La danza de la realidad. One of the producers, who is also an editor, made me an offer for a book about costume design, which I’d done. But then, he suggested to me that this book also be about my artistic path, my personal history with art. At the start I was surprised, and even if I doubted that I could interest anyone, I accepted and delivered myself over completely to this work, which was thrilling. In five months or so, I created my own ‘dance of reality’, returning to my childhood. I tried to create something autobiographical and totally authentic: I’m convinced that when what one says is true, the personal dimension is overcome and a level of universality is achieved. In this book, I talk about myself, my beliefs, but also about the world.

VL: What was the artistic path you followed?

PMJ: I don’t remember making the decision to be an artist, it was something that came naturally. Since I was small I had always drawn, and when I was old enough to think about the future, a profession, it seemed obvious that it would have to do with art. I constructed my life starting from that idea, sometimes calculated, sometimes intuitive. I studied art, met several artists I admired… My mother always said to me that to scale a hill one has to look at a mountain. It’s what I did.

VL: In your painting, what do you seek to express? What concepts do you work with?

PMJ: There are recurrent themes: fragility, impermanence, this balance between what remains and what disappears, between movement and the trace it leaves. I was born in France but I am Eurasian, like my parents: one grandmother is Cambodian and the other Vietnamese, and my grandfathers are both French. When I studied and tried to define my sculptural style, my teachers pointed out that it was very Asian: cool or soft colours, fluid materials. My art found itself very removed from the Western tradition. So I let myself be carried along by that style, in search of my origins, my identity. For me, it was about being true to myself without imitating, and being open to what life was giving me.

Self-portrait of Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

VL: In what way do you find yourself in what you paint?

PMJ: I have the feeling it’s a prolongation of myself. Of my head, my heart, my soul… It’s the place I’m closest to myself, it’s the most representative and authentic part of me. I seek to be honest and never do anything attempting to win over or obtain the approval of the rest.

VL: What do you hope for from art when you are a viewer?

PMJ: To be moved. In my imagination art takes us to the sacred, not in a religious sense but in a spiritual and mystic sense. That is to say, it escapes the senses and the rational, and explains our relationship with the earthly world, as well as the cosmos and metaphysics. When it comes down to it, every time I go to see a work, whether it’s a painting, a work of theatre, or an opera, I always hope to be moved, to feel that the work allows me to open my soul. And my ideal is that my own art will do that too.

VL: In addition to being a painter, you’re a set designer, costume designer, photographer…

PMJ: I think that the most important thing is that one wants to express oneself. One always starts with some predilection: I dedicated myself to painting because I felt it was my vertebral column, but a moment came in which I had the will and the necessity to leave the limits of the frame. And so I started to work directly on a space. I wanted to do set design but not as a set designer, but rather from the persective of a painter. I met the choreographer Carolyn Carlson, who I found charming and who was for me the right person because, having side-stepped the usual structures and obligations of the profession, my gaze was sufficiently open that I accepted to work with a beginner. For her show ‘Wash the Flowers’ in 2005, she gave me her absolute artistic confidence and, in addition to the set design, she asked me to think up the costumes. In 2010, we worked together again, with Alejandro joining us… As for photography, I’ve always lived with a camera in hand. Perhaps it has to do with the consciousness of time passing, with the desire that moments don’t escape. In painting, you create an object that exists in the absolute, a kind of eternity. In photography there is a capture of reality, of instantaneity, and it’s magical. In Chile, during the filming of La danza de la realidad, I took photos for our own archives: Alejandro wanted everything to be done with the greatest discretion, without professional photographers. It was when we returned to France and the distributors asked us for publicity material that my photos became the official photos of the film. I feel that in these last years, I’ve returned almost unintentionally to the artistic expressions that I’ve always liked. For me, the path is the same, only the materials change. And what most interests me is the dialogue that exists between these distinct expressions, as in the opera, which is the global art par excellence.

Jodorowsky by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

VL: How would you define your artistic collaboration with Alejandro?

PMJ: It started nearly by chance. In the first part of our story, we had the feeling that despite the great love that united us, we came from very different universes and had very different practical experiences. He came from a universe that was visually very strong, very marked by Latin America; and I made something more austere, silent, marked by my Asian origins. But living together, we realised that they weren’t deep differences, and that our way of thinking about a work was completely similar. Everything is complementary. The exhibition ‘Yin & Yang/Yin’ started as a game: Alejandro made some drawings and sugested that I add colours. Then some friends saw our work and told us that we had to exhibit it, and finally we got to the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. We consider this work as our symbolic child. In our relationship there are only bridges, no wall. We know everything about each other, we admire each other, we respect each other, and so we respect what the other does individually. And once in a while, we feel the need to create something together, but nothing is calculated.

VL: Was that what happened with the film La danza de la realidad?

Filming of La danza de la realidad, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

PMJ: I did the costumes, then the photos… The lines between life and art are continually blurred, but in a natural way. There is no rivalry, no tension between us. It’s true that to arrive at this level of collaboration a very good relationship is necessary, in which just a look, a word are sufficient to express things. But this was an adventure so extraordinary, with so many things in between… Alejandro has wanted to make a film for a long time, but with his methods, his actors, his children, without having to obey the laws of the film world. He carried it out with a total artistic liberty, first with the help of Internet users, then with producers, until he could return the money to the Internet users. I knew that I had to accompany him in this experience that was going to be very emotionally difficult, because it was very personal, very autobiographical. I thought it was going to change us all, and that’s what happened.

VL: How was the film received?

PMJ: We’re very happy, Alejandro hadn’t hoped for such a good reception. When we got to the Cannes Film Festival, he thought that people weren’t going to understand it, that they weren’t going to like it, and this upset him. But it was an incredible moment, I’ve never seen people give a standing ovation for so long and with so much emotion. After so many years without filming, Alejandro received an outpouring of love and gratitude, and the same thing happens at every presentation of the film. It made me think of what happened in Tocopilla, the Chilean city where Alejandro spent his childhood and where he filmed. There was a ceremony in which they named him ‘Distinguished son of the city’ and he gave a talk saying that despite all he’d suffered, despite the mistreatments, the humiliations, this town, that of his childhood, remained within him, in his heart. Suddenly, at that moment, the act of healing occurred that he had sought through his film.

VL: Pascale, speak from the heart… What do you hope for from love? 

PMJ: I can’t say that I hope for something from love because I live it as something that is, not as something that one learns from or waits for. Since I was a girl, I have had a very strong ideal: a life ideal, an artistic ideal, a sentimental ideal. For me, there has never been any difference between the sublimated, dreamed world of literature, and the life one can live. I was always certain that I was going to experience a love story like the one I lived with Alejandro. It’s as if all the time I were living with an empty seat by my side, knowing that one day I would recognise sitting in it the object of my love.