At Guillermo Bert's art studio in The Brewery, old technology fuses with new in the most harmonious way possible.
Bert's show “Encoded Textiles,” which started Sunday at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, literally weaves together large-scale tapestries with Aztec codes that can be read with smart phones — leading the audience to find out something more about the native cultures whose indigenous design inspired the works.
Sound complicated? It all started when Bert started to look at barcodes (the crowd of black lines that the check-out guy scans at the grocery store) and Aztec codes (those squiggly, checkerboard-like squares that code information and that you're supposed to scan on your smartphone these days) and compare them with the traditional geometric patterns of native people in the Americas. Bert, a native of Chile who moved to the United States in 1981, says merging the digital code with the ancient art of weaving was a natural fit. “I was mesmerized by how much the technology of loom patterns look like the new technology patterns for the barcodes.”
He embarked on a years-long journey, interviewing and working with indigenous groups. He employed Mapuche weavers in southern Chile to create the textiles for this project. Chilean weaver Anita Paillamil re-created Bert's abstract designs on blankets that are approximately 4 by 8 feet. Bert has also made 20-word stories that are triggered by someone scanning the code on the artwork. He is also working on a documentary about this process.
The most difficult part, he says, was getting the codes to actually work. For months, the artist and the weavers worked to make a product that would actually scan with a smarthphone code-reader. The textiles had to be woven tightly — with each square the same size, without rulers or digital methods. “To get it to the point where the codes actually do what they're supposed to do, that's amazing,” says Bert. “We want to communicate ancient stories through these means, opening the stories up a new world and connecting people. It's relevant for the culture, to reinstate indigenous stories into the mainstream culture.”
Encoded Textiles will be on display at Pasadena Museum of California Art's “Guillermo Bert: Encoded Textiles” from October 28 through February 24.
On November 4 at 3 p.m., Bert will discuss “Encoded Textiles,” reflecting on the relationships among technology, language and cultural heritage.