An exhibition at Simone Subal Gallery, New York, in Spring of 2017.
From the press release, written by Alexandre Dumabdze:
“Julien Bismuth’s latest exhibition revolves around the unsolvable problem of how to fully represent an experience. For the past several years, Bismuth has explored the limits of both linguistic and visual systems of communications, and has become increasingly interested in the space between a referent and its depiction. In streams, this has meant a self-conscious reflection on hesitation—the moment of pause before one expresses oneself—considering how to give experience a form, especially a form recognizable as art. Last year, Bismuth, along with the anthropologist Marco Antonio Gonçalves, spent twelve days with the Pirahã, an indigenous people from the Brazilian Amazon. Bismuth first read about the Pirahã and met with Gonçalves in 2012. This initial visit marks the concrete start of an ongoing project on the Pirahã that he is developing in close dialogue with the anthropologist. Both intend to return to the Pirahã this summer for a longer stay. Pirahã has no system of writing; their culture has no tradition of image making. Pirahã is also a tonal language, and it can be hummed and whistled. This project reflects Bismuth’s interest in how language shapes and reflects one’s understanding of the world, as well as in the subtle and complex nature of the dialogue between anthropologists and indigenous groups.
The works on view are Bismuth’s attempt to articulate the gap between different representational systems, as well as between different cultural contexts. They are also meditations on all that is lost or misunderstood when communicating. bank shot is a clip of unedited video footage that presents two views of Bismuth’s camera floating down the Maici River, first filming with sound the opposite bank from where the Pirahã live, then cutting the sound when the camera flips around to record the Pirahã living on the opposite bank. The video’s dissociation of image and sound creates a distanciation between Bismuth and what is around him, akin to the disconnect between observer and observer, as well as between an experience and its translation into a written or visual form. The series of digital photographs are another attempt to express the fundamental struggle to communicate. Each image contains a steganographic message—a hidden, coded writing—encrypted in the data of the image. The encryption alters the file’s data and changes the colors of the individual pixels of the image. In each picture, the same file transmits two things simultaneously: the hidden text, which is revealed in the title of the work, and the altered colors of the image. At every instant, the works in the show manifest doubt in the efficacy of representational systems; they hesitate and stutter visually. One could even say that they communicate by means of such stuttering. But they also acknowledge representation’s ubiquity, its centrality for expressing thought and experiences. It is a conundrum of incommensurabilities and inefficiencies, but one of great potential and beauty: different structures offer different modes of being.
The artist would like to thank Vincent Bismuth for the creation of the software used to produce the encrypted photographs, as well as Marco Antonio Gonçalves, Helmut Batista, the FNAGP, and the Peter S. Reed foundation for making his project with the Pirahã possible.”
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This is a link to the video, titled Bank Shot, that was produced for this exhibition:
A wall text accompanied the works on view, like a commentary or footnote to the exhibition. Here is its text:
1. A text has been hidden inside each of these images. The hidden text is the title of the image. The software I use encodes text into images, sign by sign, into each and every pixel of an image file. In doing so, the data of the image is altered, thus altering its colors, and producing patterns like television noise, fractals, or like the fractured designs of a Magic Eye 3D™ stereogram image. You might remember them. You were supposed to stare at these images without focusing on their surface for the 3D illusion to appear. This way of seeing is called parallel or cross-eyed viewing.
2. The text is written into the data of the image in encrypted form, meaning only someone with the same software can decrypt the text from within the image. But my purpose is not to hide anything, but rather to show something. Something like a reticence or a hesitation. The titles I encrypted are small and oftentimes banal compositions of words. Some are in Portuguese. All of them are encrypted repeatedly throughout each image, up to 4,166 times. Sometimes that repetition produces other words. The title “fliesandbutter,” for example, when repeated, becomes:
4. Flies and butterflies surround that image.
5. All but one of these photographs were taken in the territory of the Pirahã tribe in the state of Amazonas, Brazil. I first read about the Pirahã in 2012. I was drawn by the fact that their language could be spoken but also hummed, muttered, or even whistled. I contacted and met the two people who had studied the tribe: the linguist Daniel Everett and the anthropologist Marco Antonio Gonçalves.
6. My interest grew as my exchanges with Marco and other anthropologists and linguists in Brazil deepened. I became fascinated with their way of working and with the questions – both practical and theoretical – that they wrestled with in their research. I went to visit another tribe called the Maxacali with a group of researchers in 2015. In September of 2016, I was finally able to visit the Pirahã with Marco, on whose invitation I first came to Brazil. Throughout this whole process, I never had a plan beyond going there. As of now, the only concrete plan or project I have is to return. There are reasons behind this irresolution; but reasons, like intentions, are best kept at an untethered remove from actual endeavors.
7. The images you see before you could have been taken anywhere. More or less anywhere. Sky. Sand. Sticks. Insects. A canoe. A basket or a blackened pot. I hesitated to show figures and so the only figures you’ll see are filtered through this reticence. Though I’ve been pulled elsewhere by the experience, that elsewhere is not a place, it’s something like a hesitation. A better word might be “limbo,” which the online dictionary I’m looking at on my phone defines as “a state of uncertainty” whose synonyms are “Siberia, demilitarized zone, left field, nothingness, nowhere, oblivion, out there.” None of these things are what I mean. What I mean is something closer to the word “abeyance.”
8. An abeyance, a reticence, a hesitation. I could tell you stories about our stay or paraphrase descriptions of their way of life and culture, but I’d rather delay that moment, perhaps indefinitely. All I want to show for now are these images in abeyance of their content, their contextualization.
10. A digital image file consists of pixels. The color of each pixel is determined by lines of code. Each line of code is called a byte, and each byte consists of eight numbers called bits. A bit is either a zero or a one. The program I use allows me to isolate between one to eight bits in every byte and rewrite them, encoding a text into the image in the process. The more bits per byte are used for the encryption, the more the data of the image is altered, and the more its colors are in turn altered. The repeated encryption of the text produces patterns that cover the image like a glaze, an iridescence, or a stain. How do you look past a disruption to the illusion of its reconciliation? In the literature that accompanies Magic Eye 3D™ publications, the following directions are given: “The longer you look, the clearer the illusion becomes. The farther away you hold the page, the deeper it becomes.” While looking for this quote, I stumbled upon the following question, listed by my search engine under the rubric “People also ask.” The question is:
11. How do you diverge your eyes?