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Pierre Bismuth (*1963 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France), a post-conceptual artist and filmmaker, sets different systems (fine art and Hollywood, law and psychoanalysis) in opposition with each other to deconstruct their internal mechanisms. At the centre of his work lies the myth of the artist and the creative process, and the structures that enable both.

For the drawing series Following the right hand of … (1999–) Bismuth projects a film featuring an iconic film star on an acrylic glass plate (Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks, and, in later works, Freud and Lacan). He then traces the movements they make with their right hand throughout the film in marker pen. The last film still featuring the protagonist provides the background for the drawing that Bismuth produces through this split authorship. Depending on how long the hand movements were traced for, these abstract “portraits” are either inscribed with curly squiggles or their image is almost obliterated by dense scrawl. The series Certificates of Authenticity (2001) also deals with the paradox of handwriting: each document explicitly states that it is not an original work of art by, say the likes of John Baldessari, nevertheless it still bears their signature.

The Jungle Book Project (2002) weaves together different language editions of The Jungle Book (1894) into a Babylonian utopia, where every animal speaks a different language. The attribution of nationalities is owed—at least in part—to the source material (the snake, for example, was felt to be at its most convincing in the Italian version), and the artist assigns certain characteristics to the animals according to the colonial assumptions of the original text. The project also references current political events: Shere Khan, the villain in the plot, speaks the language of Empire (upper-class English), while at the time of the Second Intifada, Mowgli’s two friends (the panther Bagheera and Baloo, the bear) were given Arabic and Hebrew dubbed voices respectively.

In his 2015 retrospective Der Kurator, der Anwalt und der Psychoanalytiker (The curator, the lawyer, and the pyschoanalyst) at the Kunsthalle Wien, Bismuth arranged for his body of works to be analyzed by professionals, as cited in the exhibition title, and in terms of their specific expertise. The results were then used as complementary wall texts, producing a collision between competing systems of perception and modes of narration.

In the more recent Trailer 1 for his film Where is Rocky II? (2016), Bismuth questions the artist Ed Ruscha at a press conference regarding the whereabouts of a mysterious early work, a rock he made of synthetic resin which he then supposedly deposited in California’s Mojave Desert in 1979. The film Rocky II follows a hired detective through the art scene and into the desert, and yet it is all a McGuffin, an absurd game of deception. As the artist states, “The obvious obsession was only a pretext. I wanted to conceal a documentary in a work of fiction. […] I wanted to call into permanent doubt all things that seem simple and real. Like transplanting a strategy from the field of art into the cinema and then back again into art.”

Together with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, Bismuth was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2005 for the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). He has participated in the 11th Biennale de Lyon (2011), 4th Berlin Biennale (2006), Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt (2002), and the 49th Venice Biennale (2001). He has also presented solo exhibitions at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (2017), Kunsthalle Wien (2016 and 2014), La maison rouge, Paris (2012), British Film Institute, Southbank, London (2008), Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2008), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007), Villa Arson, Nice (2006), Kunstmuseum Thun (2005), Sprengel Museum, Hannover (2002), Contemporary Art Center Vilnius (2001), Kunsthalle Basel (2001), Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels (1997), and Witte de With, Rotterdam (1997). Pierre Bismuth lives in Brussels.

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