Video · Juan Jerez’s Genesis

© Juan Jerez

Echoing the “Hector Guimard and the Genesis of the Metro” exhibition running from March 16 to July 14, the video Genesis immerses viewers in the heart of this fascinating story, exploring the roots and legacy of Guimard’s creations through three narrative journeys. First of all, a journey into the architect’s creative mind, revealed via his preparatory drawings, restored by the Musée d'Orsay. Next, a return journey between the Museum and the City, via a series of images capturing the evolution of the Parisian landscape and the traces of Guimard’s work in the urban fabric. Finally, a journey into modernity, via the imagination and thoughts of a group of young architects inspired by their predecessor’s organic forms, power and audacious vision. Juan Jerez presents this unique film below.

In spring 2023, the Musée d'Orsay asked me to make a film to accompany the “Hector Guimard and the Genesis of the Metro” exhibition.

My intention for the film was to use the story of metro entrances designed in the early 20th century in order to explore the “genesis” of modern urban culture and its legacy in contemporary Paris.

My first idea was to produce a series of photographs on the presence of Guimard’s work in today’s urban landscape. In parallel, I started to document the relationship the city maintained with its Art Nouveau metro entrances. A complicated relationship, in which criticisms and disregard were long expressed by the disappearance or abandonment of a good many of the stations that had been built. So I decided to show this absence as well, by photographing the void left by various demolished works. Doing so created a parallel with the gaps evident in some of the drawings exhibited.

I still had to come up with a common thread, an axis around which I could organize the film’s narration. In my view, the city is a collective construction, not just the result of an urban planner’s or political power’s resolve and rational design, but also of the chaos and unpredictable, haphazard character of the organic world. Some of this chaotic energy was already evident in a number of photos, due to the presence of human beings. So I decided to make the city and humankind central to the narration, by trying to create a crosscutting collective work in which the script was not written in advance by one person but composed of fragments of diverse voices.

To this end, I implemented a procedure: showing, without specifying their origin, a selection of Guimard’s preparatory drawings to a group of young architects and asking them “what do these drawings evoke in you?” Their replies, which were often surprising and included a great many references to popular culture, provide the basis for the film’s narrative structure and help give it a poetic, metaphorical tone.

I should like to thank all the people who contributed to the film’s creation. Architects Anthony Benarroche, Sarah Chayeb, Pauline Paradis, Thomas Christiaen, Eugénie Bliah, Doriane Debert, Amélie Gressier, Giulia Castaldi, Nataly Tello, Ilaria Giorgi, Nastasia Thiriet, Ary D’Oria, Jean-François Dary Colonna and Jean-Malo Le Clerc. Curators Clémence Raynaud and Claire Guitton. My thanks also go to Beatrice Fena for the elegant way in which she handled the drawings, and to Ada Loueih for her invaluable advice. A big thank you to Anat Meruk and Nina Guyader. And thanks also to my wife, Laura Cattabianchi, for lighting up my days.

Paris, March 2024

Juan Jerez