An indigenous people, struggling to preserve their traditions. An artist, looking to merge the oldest creative traditions and the newest technologies, while calling attention to the indigenous of his native country. The Coded Stories Project will use an artist’s unique work to look at this little-known group in Chile, while raising issues of loss of identity, globalization, and modernization that affect all of us.
Artist Guillermo Bert, an immigrant to Los Angeles from Chile, most recently has been working with bar codes in his art. Fascinated with the idea of encrypting messages in his work, he has investigated the levels of meaning of bar codes and their relationship to values, capitalism, and society for five years.
“As a visual artist, I strive to create contemporary work that is both aesthetically challenging and addresses issues relevant to our time. The political and social themes in my work are influenced by my formative years in Chile, and to a greater extent, my two decades of experience as a bi-cultural artist living in Los Angeles.” – Guillermo Bert
The use of bar codes raises the issue of the enormous influence that these contemporary encoding devices have in the storage of information and the encoding of identity in our highly technological world. With these technologies our identities are digitized and in the process often stolen or lost – parallel, perhaps, to the identities often lost by indigenous people or immigrants – a process which the artist is trying to reverse through his own artistic use of the same technologies.
Bert learned from an indigenous Mapuche poet, Graciela Huinao, about the ongoing disappearance of the traditional stories of the Mapuche, after many years of their language not being taught in schools, and as Western society moves in. He has chosen to work on the imperative need to preserve Mapuche tales and poems, merging his ongoing interests with the new issues raised by the Mapuche in his Encoded Textiles project.
“My goal is for the project to generate awareness of these issues and to raise questions about the devastating consequences of globalization on our worlds’ indigenous groups. How will native peoples survive the growing reach of global capitalism? Is it possible for them to maintain self-sufficiency? What will become of their stories, their language? And what will the world look like if these cultures disappear?” – Guillermo Bert
Bert’s Encoded Textiles Project will involve going to Chile to videotape stories and poems from the Mapuche. They might be singers, writers, weavers, village elders, or farmers. Two storytellers already set are the eloquent woman poet Graciela Huinao and the “bird man” Lorenzo Aillapán Cayuleo, who has a remarkable ability to imitate bird calls.
Bert will video tape multiple stories and select six for encoding into the bar code PDF417, which can hold an unlimited amount of information, is used at airports to tag luggage, and bears a striking resemblance to Mapuche textiles.
He will give the encoded patterns to Mapuche weavers, who will be paid to create the actual tapestries.
The art project will result in magnificent large woven textiles that are conceptual works of art, and will be exhibited in museums and galleries alongside the video documentation of the storytellers.
Pasadena Museum of California Art has already committed to exhibit Bert’s Encoded Textiles project, opening in October 2012. The weavings may go on display in other locations in Chile and America before and after then.
The film, largely verité but with some interviews and stylized images of weaving, will follow Bert through the process of creating his Encoded Textiles art, and will follow the lives of several of the Mapuche storytellers or weavers to learn about the conflicts they face in Chile today. Most will be filmed in Chile as Bert finds storytellers and records them, and later works with the weavers to create the pieces. The film will spend more time with the Mapuche themselves, giving glimpses into this little-known indigenous group that otherwise goes almost unknown in the West. Their remarkable history, the art and culture, and the current distress they face, with their way of life threatened, will be the heart of the film.
Some will be filmed in Los Angeles following Bert in his studio, working out the bar codes, and ultimately installing the work.
The creative process and primary filming will happen from September 2011 to April 2012. It is dependent on the weather in Southern Chile where the Mapuche live. We aim to work and film there during the Chilean Summer
The museum opening in October 2102 will be the climax of the film, with Mapuche storytellers coming from Chile to share in the display of their work, and to share their culture and stories with the global community.