Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa Director of photography José Mari Zabala
With Letra morta [Dead Letter], Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa has made a film based on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew from 1964, shot on the outskirts of São Paulo. Although the new film maintains some of the original’s formal and aesthetic elements, the script has been rewritten to shift the focus toward some biblical verses that the Italian director had overlooked. These passages – for instance, the parable in which the successful investor is rewarded and failure in business is punished – are, to Pérez Agirregoikoa’s way of thinking, key to the discursive undergirding of Western capitalism.
Over the last thirteen years, after abandoning abstraction, Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa has been working with the subversion of discourses on power and obedience. His interventions sometimes consist of minimum changes introduced into more or less well-known sentences, such as when he removes the word ‘no’ from some of the Judaeo-Christian Ten Commandments.
At other times, and in contrast, he makes a replacement. For instance, he hired a chamber choir to sing four popular Spanish and Basque songs but with lyrics taken from texts by French materialist philosophers. Thus, the original folkloric tracks are overlaid with issues pertaining to matter, the use of libidinal energy by the economy, praxis as the matrix of appearance and revolution.
That said, far from subscribing to a ‘correct’ way of thinking, Pérez Agirregoikoa destabilises all references, including the commonplace in which a quasi-universal consensus might possibly exist. To this end, on a large canvas we have a list of all the wars undertaken by the USA in the twentieth century, while on another he writes: ‘Capitalism is fabulous’. Instead of allegiance, what these operations look for is to undermine worldviews that are crystallised and, in consequence, foreclose any possibility of individual and social transformation.
In Letra morta, the same operation is at play: a questioning of the worldview imposed by a religion that, very often, prompts a weakening of individual and community power. – SGN