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Artist portraits (13): Pierre Bismuth
Frankfurter Rundschau | 11.06.2002
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++++ The Jungle Book, no, not by Rudyard Kipling, but the film version by Walt Disney. Generations of us have grown up with this film before our eyes and in our ears, at least in the Western world. Thus we know Bagheera, Mogli, Kaa and Baloo, their characters, their moods and their preferences. And we can also sing along with Take It Easy without a mistake.
With his Jungle Book Project, the French artist, Pierre Bismuth, has built a pretty little tower of Babel in the midst of our repeatedly conjured-up age of globalization by combining the various dubbed versions of the Disney film and assigning a different language to each figure. The first impression is one of strangeness because you are not always in a position to recognize the individual languages. Or can you recognize Japanese as such and distinguish it from Korean, Finnish from Norwegian, Arabian from Hebrew and Czech from Polish? Some things, however, can easily be deciphered. Mogli's Hola! seems especially jaunty and Kaa's plea for trust and faith charmingly Italian, and Shirkahn's cunning is communicated perfectly in the arrogant tone of Eton English. By contrast, the French-German dialogue between two elephant cows and the Swedish-Portuguese-Norwegian-Dutch conversation among vultures seems somewhat absurd, since the sounds of the languages are too disparate.
On a wall to the side, copied pencil portraits of the film figures provide assistance in identifying the languages, but at some point it no longer matters whether Baloo and his friends speak to each other in Hebrew, Greek or Czech. If it does not bother them, why should it bother us? For, in spite of all the confusion of languages, the action as such remains comprehensible. The collectively recallable story proves itself to be a great equalizer beyond all borders.
Pierre Bismuth, who was born in 1963, is interested in such phenomena. His work continually circles around the validity of categories such as foreign and familiar and their effects on our perceptions. He has made a name for himself in exhibitions in places such as the Basle Kunsthalle, the Sprengel Museum in Hanover and the last biennial in Venice. In a description of himself, however, Bismuth emphasizes a completely different aspect: "Pierre Bismuth is an artist whose friends regard him as a good cook."
Frankfurter Kunstverein, until 25 August jdv

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