Jacques Perron, Unreeling (1997)

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Photo Album

(2 photos)

Videotape transferred to videodisk, monitor, paper, base, 1/3 Installation view of the exhibition


Jacques Perron audio

In the following audio clip, Jacques Perron describes the viewer's experience of Unreeling (1997) (available in French only).

Artist's Biography

Jacques Perron was born in 1955 in Ottawa, Ontario, and currently lives in Montreal, Quebec. Perron completed his studies in photography at Dawson College in Montreal and later earned a degree in Philosophy at Université du Québec à Montreal.

Perron experiments with photography, slide and film projections. He is interested in translating these artistic techniques from one to another, so as to create ambivalence between these media. In 1986, Perron co-founded Les Productions de l'Os. For the next three years, he created a series of performances and installations in uncommon sites (such as parking lots) that combined dance, music, movement and image projections.

Perron has exhibited in Canada and in Europe, including AXENÉO7 (Gatineau), OBORO (Montreal), the Centre international d'art contemporain de Montréal, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, the Netherlands Media Art Institute and the Centre d'art contemporain de Basse-Normandie. In 1999, he received the Graff prize, an award for mid-career Quebec artists. Beyond his career as an artist, Perron has worked as a cameraman and consultant for film and video projects, a translator, and special projects coordinator for electronic publications at the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology.

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Exhibited in a dark room, Unreeling is a video sculpture composed of a small CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor placed on a white pedestal at eye level. A video plays in a continuous loop and depicts a close-up of a human eye. The three-dimensional quality of the CRT monitor and its relation to the pedestal – whose dimensions correspond to the size of the monitor – play an integral role in the sculptural aspect of Unreeling.

When observing Unreeling from a distance, the viewer sees an image of a single eye displayed on a screen which is covered by a white sheet of paper. As the viewer approaches the work, the grain of the image becomes more apparent. When one stands very close to the artwork, the eye seems to transform into an abstract pattern of vibrating dots.

In Unreeling's video sequence, Perron has manipulated the image of the eye to produce brief movements: the pupil and the iris shift, the eye looks up and down and side to side, and even vibrates. Separated by black bands, each frame in which the eye is set shifts in a way that resembles a carousel or a zoetrope in slow motion. The eye is reminiscent of a spotlight, a surveillance camera or a Cyclops.

Charged with static electricity, a blank sheet of white paper clings to the monitor's screen. Perron is interested in distorting the boundaries between video and photography. In Unreeling, this is achieved by the sheet of paper that blurs the image on the screen. The grain of the paper absorbs the light from the screen and the pixelation of the video, giving the paper a photographic quality. Perron states: "It is the sheet that "complicates" the work, [that] gives it this ambivalence so important to me: photo/video? grain/pixel? It is the friction between these aspects that interests me. The sheet brings warmth, short-circuits the coldness of the screen, humanizes this inhuman gaze".Footnote 1

A previous pivotal work of Perron's, Figure (1992), was an inspiration for Unreeling. Figure depicts a blurred face in black and white in which the grainy quality of photography is emphasized. The ambivalence of the subject (for example, is the figure a man or a woman?) is an important quality of the artwork for Perron. There are numerous versions of Figure: initially a photograph, it has also been displayed as a film loop, video loop and digital image printed on paper.

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Videotape transferred to videodisk, monitor, paper, base, 1/3

Jacques Perron
Videotape transferred to videodisk, monitor, paper, base, 1/3
154,8 x 22,3 x 33 cm (monitor and base)
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Jacques Perron
Photo MMFA, Brian Merrett

Unreeling video

Video: Jacques Perron, Unreeling (1997).

Jacques Perron audio

In the following audio clip, Jacques Perron describes the viewer's experience of Unreeling (1997).
(available in French only)

Behind the Scenes

In this section, we will explore the making of Unreeling and the equipment used. We will also discuss specific challenges that Unreeling has encountered in its installation at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA).

The Making of Unreeling

The process of creating Unreeling involved translating between a variety of media. Perron began by photographing an individual's eyes. He then transferred these photographs onto slides, which he projected onto a large screen. As a result of magnifying the slides, the grain of the photograph is apparent. Perron then videotaped the magnified slides of both eyes separately, which added pixelation to the image. Perron used this video footage as his raw material. He then edited and manipulated the eye movements of the video sequence.

Unreeling is the product of a video residency at AXENÉO 7, an artist-run centre in Gatineau, Quebec. Perron describes the context in which he created Unreeling by stating that: "I was seeking vibration, I was seeking snow, I was seeking noise. What the viewer sees has been greatly amplified. […] It's really a question of pushing the machines to their limit".Footnote 2

Installation Challenges

In 1999, the MMFA acquired Unreeling. Perron originally recorded the video sequence on VHS, which the MMFA has since upgraded to DVD. In both cases, the VCR and DVD players are hidden from view when exhibited.

The materials for the current (2008) version of Unreeling include:

  • 1 wooden pedestal, painted white;
  • 1 CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor;
  • 1 blank sheet of white paper;
  • 1 DVD (digital video disc);
  • 1 DVD player.

An important aspect of Unreeling is the static created by the CRT screen, which holds the sheet of paper in place. The dependence on static electricity to support the sheet of paper has introduced a challenge for the artwork's installation.

Before the MMFA acquired the artwork, Unreeling was exhibited in artist-run centres and galleries. Since its acquisition, an unforeseen difficulty has arisen: the sheet of paper does not consistently cling to the screen.

The MMFA has proposed two possible explanations for this:

  • Dryness encourages static electricity, while humidity deters it. For conservation purposes, museums have increased humidity levels in exhibition spaces, which results in a decrease in static electricity.
  • Museums have more visitors than artist-run centres. The movement of people creates an airflow that can result in a break of static electrical pull.

The current solution is to discreetly tape the paper in place. This ensures that the paper has the same effect as when it clings to the screen with static. Neither Perron nor the MMFA are particularly fond of this temporary solution, as the manner in which the paper clings to the screen due to static is an important conceptual aspect of the artwork for Perron. However, this is the best strategy found to date.

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Jacques Perron audio

In the following audio clip, Jacques Perron describes the process of making Unreeling (1997) (available in French only).

Installation view of the exhibition

Jacques Perron
Installation view of the exhibition
High Points: Selection from the Collection of Contemporary Canadian Art
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
June 9 – October 3, 2004
Photo MMFA

Conservation Challenges

CRT (cathode ray tube) Monitor

A major conservation concern for Unreeling is that CRT monitors are becoming less available as they are replaced by newer technologies. CRT monitors will likely become obsolete within a couple of decades. The conservators at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) are looking into purchasing a number of CRT monitors while they are still on the market. If used infrequently, CRT monitors have a long lifespan. Placed in storage until Unreeling is next exhibited, the new monitor can then simply replace a defective one when necessary.

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Footnote 1

E-mail correspondence with the Jacques Perron, June 20, 2008.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Amanda Beattie, Researcher and copywriter; Émilie Boudrias, Research Assistant; Richard Gagnier, Head of the Conservation Department. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Interview with Jacques Perron. June 19, 2008.

Return to footnote 2 referrer

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