Julien Bismuth
March 10 – May 8, 2021

“Despite the stereotypical pretence of a plot, in the comedy of Pulcinella there is only parabasis. Pulcinella does not act in a play; he has always already interrupted it, has always already left it, by means of a shortcut or a byway. He is pure parabisis: an exit from the scene, from history, from the silly, flimsy story in which one would like to contain him. In the life of humans - and this is his teaching - the only important thing is to find an escape route. Leading where? To the origin. Because the origin lies always in the middle (mezzo); it exists only as interruption. And the interruption is an escape route.

Ubi fracassorium, ibi fuggitorium - where there is a catastrophe, there is an escape route.”

-Giorgio Agamben


This exhibition is the result of an irresolute sequence of interruptions and deviations, centered around the Commedia dell'Arte character of Pulcinella. This show was supposed to open last March, with the wallpaper designs and other works. Once the confinement started here in New York, I began drawing Pulcinelles on images from the newspaper that arrived each morning at our door. The casts of the apotropaic Mano Figa or "fig hand" gestures were made when I was able to return to my studio later that Spring. The latex masks and accompanying film date from the last three months. All of these elements have a physiognomy, I see faces even in the cast hands. Yet, like masks, their expressivity is made uncanny by their arrested fixity. Unlike living faces, they neither move nor twitch, they remain set in their contortions.

Rather than seek to adhere to a preliminary concept, I worked in pursuit of an idea or rather, its cipher. The idea is that of comedy, and its cipher is Pulcinella, whose character is defined by its inherent resistance to characterization. I chose processes and materials that were inherently receptive to contingency and deviation, and chose to work with rather than against the errors and disruptions that I encountered along the way. None of these decisions can be characterized as intentions, as they were anchored in the pursuit of an interrogation that I am having trouble naming, because it has too many names, too many horizons, too many interruptions and deviations.

Inasmuch as there is an origin for this body of work, it is articulated in the opening quote, which was already used to promote this exhibition, but which I read again, as if for the first time, while writing this press release. The ideas we grasp most forcefully are those we encounter after the fact, from within the turbulent wake of a pursuit that only ever seems to be leading us elsewhere.

-Julien Bismuth