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Coded Stories

Directed by Adam Hyman and Anthony Rauld

An indigenous people, struggling to preserve their traditions. An artist, looking to merge the oldest creative traditions and the newest technologies, while calling attention to the indigenous of his native country. The Coded Stories Project will use an artist’s unique work to look at a marginalized group in Chile, while raising issues of loss of identity, globalization, and modernization that affect all of us.

Numbering around 600,000, the Mapuche are the largest Indian population in Chile. Many demand the return of territory lost in the 19th-century, and about fifty Mapuche who have destroyed property are in prison under draconian anti-terrorism laws drafted under the Pinochet regime. Meanwhile, many Mapuche still live in their traditional lifestyle, through agriculture and jewelry making, specializing in silver. Mapuche women still craft their remarkable textiles in the generations-old manner, weaving patterns of intricate geometric shapes that almost bear a relationship to… bar codes?

Artist Guillermo Bert, an immigrant to Los Angeles from Chile, strives to create contemporary work that is both aesthetically challenging and addresses issues relevant to our time. Fascinated with the idea of encrypting messages in his work, he has investigated the levels of meaning of bar codes and their relationship to values, capitalism, and society for five years. The use of bar codes raises the issue of the enormous influence that these contemporary encoding devices have in the storage of information and the encoding of identity in our highly technological world. With these technologies our identities are digitized and in the process often stolen or lost – parallel, perhaps, to the identities often lost by indigenous people or immigrants – a process which the artist is trying to reverse through his own artistic use of the same technologies.

Bert learned from an indigenous Mapuche poet, Graciela Huinao, about the ongoing disappearance of the traditional stories of the Mapuche, after many years of their language not being taught in schools, and as Western society moves in. He has chosen to work on the imperative need to preserve Mapuche tales and poems, merging his ongoing interests with the new issues raised by the Mapuche in his Encoded Textiles project.

The film, largely verité but with some interviews and stylized images of weaving, will follow Bert through the process of creating his Encoded Textiles art, and will follow the lives of several of the Mapuche storytellers or weavers to learn about the conflicts they face in Chile today. Most will be filmed in Chile as Bert finds storytellers and records them, and later works with the weavers to create the pieces. Two storytellers already set are the eloquent woman poet Graciela Huinao and the “bird man” Lorenzo Aillapán Cayuleo, who has a remarkable ability to imitate bird calls. Bert will video tape multiple stories and select six for encoding into the bar code PDF417, which can hold an unlimited amount of information, is used at airports to tag luggage, and bears a striking resemblance to Mapuche textiles. He will give the encoded patterns to Mapuche weavers, who will be paid to create the actual tapestries. The creative process and primary filming will happen from September 2011 to April 2012.

Pasadena Museum of California Art has already committed to exhibit Bert’s Encoded Textiles project, opening in October 2012. The project will result in magnificent large woven textiles that are conceptual works of art, and will be exhibited alongside the video documentation of the storytellers. The museum opening will be the climax of the film, with Mapuche storytellers coming from Chile to share in the display of their work, and to share their culture and stories with the global community.