Taste sculptures and other disturbing art by Pierre Bismuth

It’s a title to consider for a long time: Everyone is an artist, but only the artist knows it† If everyone is an artist, and only the artist knows it, then everyone knows it, right? Pierre Bismuth fills the classic ‘Every human being is an artist‘by Joseph Beuys with a clear paradox, and let the logic-going imagination pop into the minds of those who think about it for too long.

Everyone is an artist … is the teasing title of Pierre Bismuth’s solo exhibition at The Hague Kunstinstitution Vest. The exhibition has previously been shown at the Center Pompidou in Paris – the exhibition is a collaboration between the two institutions. Now the works are spread over two floors (and part in the basement) of the former American embassy in The Hague. Bismuth is one of the few visual artists with an Oscar – in 2005 he received the award as co-author of Michel Gondry’s An everlasting sunshine in a spotless mind

Film plays an important role in his works of art. The Jungle Book Project is, for example, a kind of tower-of-babel-atisation of the famous Walt Disney movie – after Rudyard Kipling’s book. In Bismuth’s version, all the characters speak a different language (from the original dubbing): Mowgli speaks Spanish, Bagheera Arabic, and Baloo Hebrew. The effect is alienating, but it’s also striking how strong the comic remains. The intervention also has a political significance: one could see it as a reflection on Disney’s cultural imperialism: every language area got the same Mowgli.

Bismuth literally pushes the boundaries with his art. liquids and gels (2013-2021) consists of an installation of glass vases with liquids displayed in quantities that are prohibited for aircraft. Hanging in the same room Variations on the theme of nations, flags where motifs from different countries are combined. On the facade of the West – which is housed in a former US embassy building – hangs the most current example: a flag that combines the colors and patterns of the flags of the Netherlands, the United States and Ukraine. A topical but also a bit flat statement.

Chicken-flavored sculptures

Bismuth seems more interested in the boundaries of art than in national and political boundaries. That Fried Chicken Polyethyleneworks (2015) are turn-shaped sculptures, made of plastic, to which a percentage of industrial chicken aroma has been added. So a picture with taste. In the same room, there are also double-glazed windows with jam smeared in between, the images have to refer to abstract expressionism and geometric abstraction, but that link is unclear, and in fact it is quite bland.

The film is much better Where’s Rocky II? (2016), in this hour and a half ‘fake fiction’ mockumentary, real people and invented characters explore a work of art by Ed Ruscha. He is said to have hidden a fake rock in the California desert, somewhere between the real rocks. Is this really happening? What is the work of art? In a captivating mix of documentary, detective and film trailers, Bismuth stacks up realities and explores the codes of (Hollywood) film.

Recycling existing images is also a common thread in Bismuth’s work. in the series Follows the right hand of … in film fragments and on printed film stills, he draws lines with a permanent marker to follow the right hand of a figure. The result is (of course) a messy scribble drawing on top of a film frame.

Also on display: newspaper pages where Bismuth repeats a photo from the original, clipped from another version of the same newspaper, which is surprisingly barely noticeable. Bismuth seems to refer to Walter Benjamins The work of art in a time of its technical reproducibility† Individual newspaper, circulation and framed works of art are gathered in one object, but what he exactly wants to say remains mysterious.

Chocolate and frozen meal

The truly edible art of Bismuth is more successful – for sale at the front desk. Together with artist Asad Raza, he developed the frozen meal Chiasmus, which combines two traditional dishes from different cultures: the Tunisian Jewish pkaila and the Pakistani aloo palak. Two dishes from different kitchens with roughly the same ingredients (spinach and potato), by serving them together in a bowl ‘lifts the boundaries’. Bismuth also developed a chocolate bar with a ‘colonial taste’. Chocolate with a touch of Indonesia is 80 percent dark chocolate and a nougatine of peanuts, coconut, ginger and sweet soy sauce.

According to the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a good meal could not be art because we have an interest in eating it (we must stay full). Kant believed that the aesthetic judgment can only be made ‘uninterested’. In an accompanying text, Bismuth says cryptically: “If the art public can not escape its role as a cultural consumer, it may prefer to eat good chocolate.”

That the chocolate bar has a ‘colonial taste’ raises questions about Bismuth’s sincerity: is this engaging art? Or is this art about committed art? That there are no unambiguous answers to these questions is perhaps the most disturbing thing about Bismuth’s work.

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