Painter, sculptor, conceptual and multimedia artist Guillermo Bert is widely known for his material and iconographic riffs on motifs related to the migration and commodification of humanity. Within striking paintings, eye-popping laser cuts, and curious 3D objects, Bert uses the repetition of images such as barcodes to comment on the manipulation of individuals in favor of commercial, automated, and potentially controllable bits of data. Bert later produced a series of woven textiles made in collaboration with and according to the traditional designs of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche community. These weavings however included QR codes, which open onto multimedia narratives of Mapuche culture and history. Bert continues to experiment with this multi-layered format, collaborating with Navajo, Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec weavers. His more recent work translates this layered narrative sensibility into a film-based project exploring the lived experiences of immigrants.
L.A. WEEKLY: What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
GUILLERMO BERT: I’m not sure. I still sometimes think I should be an architect! I love shape and form more than people…but I navigate pretty well around ideas and visual concepts, so I feel like I have a calling, but the art market turns me off — too much ego and not a lot of talent. But I like new ideas even if they are young and undeveloped. I just think the process of creation is the closest to a meaningful, spiritual experience we can get. It really gives me joy!
How do you short answer when people ask what your work is about?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a short answer. I feel my ideas and processes need to be understood in context. I would say I work with ideas related to migration and displacement in a multimedia fashion, from textiles to 3D models, photography, mapping projection, etc. But it all sounds very vague — as if I am naming various art making techniques from a catalog.
What would you be doing if you were not an artist?
Architecture has always been a big passion of mine, but filmmaking is also quite intriguing. I do some documentary filmmaking, and if I could write fiction, I would make films in the genre of Black Mirror — half science fiction, and drama, with a little dark humor.
Did you go to an Art School, Why? And why not?
I earned an Advanced Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art in Chile. Once I finished my studies I immediately traveled to the United States and started all over, again. I took classes at Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design as well as Art Center College of Design. Soon after, I started teaching at Art Center, which is where I learned about technology and lasers, and I have continually applied that information to my art for the last 20 years. That work led me to create a laser company here in Los Angeles called L.A. Laser Cutting Services. This has allowed me to test a lot of new ideas and materials, and I have been able to work with many different artists and designers. I am able to apply these ever-advancing techniques into my own art pieces.
Why do you live in Los Angeles and not elsewhere?
Los Angeles has been my place of residency for the last 40 years, and it has definitely become my home. I feel very comfortable here. My wife and I have three kids and now two grandkids from our daughter Camila, so our roots here are deep. But I have seen the city transform in front of my very eyes. When I got here in 1981, everyone used to look to New York or even San Francisco to get the latest news of what was happening culturally. Now, Los Angeles is the magnet — all the eyes are on Los Angeles, even those in Berlin, Paris, New York. I travel quite a lot, and everywhere I go people want to know what is happening here in L.A., and it is a great feeling to know that I’m part of that.
What was your first exhibition?
My very first exhibition was a big to-do in Chile. I had won the National Upcoming Young Award and my pieces were shown at the The Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Santiago. This was a big and very early honor since I was still in college. I came to Los Angeles in 1981, and in 1983 I had my first solo show at Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, at their old location near MacArthur Park. Al Nodal was the curator, and I still maintain collectors from that exhibition that happened over 35 years ago.
When it was your most recent new show?
The Tumble Dreams was a solo show of some new and very experimental work: I created an installation piece for the Barnsdall Art Gallery as part of their annual COLA Fellowship in 2018, a distinctive program sponsored by the Department of Cultural Affairs. It was made of mapping videos, captured here in L.A., of immigrants telling their stories and then projected onto suspended tumbleweeds. I used the tumbleweed as a metaphor to illustrate the hard journey of immigrants coming from south of the border and going off in all different directions. Last year I had an itinerant museum show from the Encoded Textile Series— it traveled to the Queens Museum in New York, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Palm Springs Art Museum. And just recently a new work of mine, La Bestia, was purchased by LACMA. It’s been a busy and exciting time.
What artist, living or dead, would you like to show with?
The artists I admire the most are Anselm Kiefer and Ai Weiwei. I’m not sure I would like to show with them, but I admire their art greatly. Barbara Kruger is another artist whose work I like quite a bit, as well as Mark Bradford — I had the chance to exhibit with each of them at some point. Now as for a dead artist, I think I would choose Francis Bacon… his work really speaks to me!
Do you listen to music when you work?
Sometimes, but nothing in particular — but when I do I often turn on Bob Marley, Classic Rock and some Latin music.