Pierre Huyghe

until May 15, 2023
Pierre Huyghe, (Untitled) Human Mask, 2014
Close Pierre Huyghe, (Untitled) Human Mask, 2014

In the Studio and Gallery 7.

Pierre Huyghe has come to stand at the forefront of the exploration of our relationship to the non-human in art. He dwells specifically on the time of the artwork and
our relationship to the material. Huyghe proposes environments instead of objects, characterised by an evolution over time which resembles that of a living being.

A Way in Untilled was filmed in a park in the city of Kassel that had been abandoned, or “untilled”. This emblematic film of the artist’s oeuvre is also a highlight of the Pinault Collection. It depicts processes of organic decomposition and generation, making room for non-human actors and contingencies. The “adventures” and developments describe this micro-universe of a compost garden from the perspective of non-humans; it is their Umwelt, the world that they perceive in function of their own sensory capacities. Although we mainly see the meanderings of a dog called Human, other beings appear as well: bees, rodents, insects, forms of life on and in the soil and in the water, both animals and plants. The artist left these beings alone in this minimally prepared space. It is precisely this laissez-faire that interests Huyghe, the way in which each form of life unfolds in the context given to it. Huyghe created it only in part and does not control its potential for change.

Circadian Dilemma (El Dia del Ojo) is based on the possibility of an involution: can fish without eyes who are exposed for the first time ever to an alternation of day
and night recover their sight? The work places a school of tetras in deep water conditions, in a dark aquarium full of bare concretions devoid of any vegetation. This subgroup of fish evolved towards blindness as a result of a geological accident. Trapped in lightless underwater grottoes, they gradually lost their sight as they were removed from the succession of day and night, what we call the circadian rhythm. This consequence of their evolution may be reversible. The artist designed an aquarium whose panes alternate between transparency and opacity, as the liquid coating these glass walls is regulated by an algorithm fed by the surrounding environment (luminosity, climatic data, visibility, etc.). The algorithm “decides” on the change in luminosity within the aquarium. Circadian Dilemma (El Dia del Ojo) continues to explore the same idea as in Pierre Huyghe’s other piece (Untilled, 2012–2013), namely springing the artwork from its fixed state to let it become, adapt, and morph. Here the artefact adapts to the rhythm of life and its constant alteration, thereby reducing the distance between art and life. For British anthropologist Tim Ingold, most Western artists see the material, the non-human, merely as a mute medium that can be infinitely transformed by our will. Pierre Huyghe has forsaken this worldview by offering situations whose outcome he does not fully control.

Human Mask continues this inquiry into the boundary between nature and culture. Filmed in part in the abandoned area around Fukushima, Human Mask follows the wanderings of a monkey dressed and masked as a human; the fact that its attitudes are so close to ours casts a constant doubt as to its true nature. For Pierre Huyghe, the animal “plays the game of the human condition, endlessly repeating an unconscious role”. Here the human mask also refers to the constructed nature of human identity; it renders the monkey’s inner life visible to us, making it appear similar to own. The last time it looks into the camera at us, it appears to be a full-fledged interlocutor, a fellow human being. The film’s apocalyptic ambiance depicts the blurry outlines of a future world in which the boundary between the human and the non-human is not so clear. Who thus among us is “wilder?”

Biography of the artist
Born in Paris in 1962, Pierre Huyghe studied at the National School of Decorative Arts in Paris before being admitted to the Institute for Advanced Study in Visual Arts. He began by working with film and video, in which he constantly interrogated the separation between reality and fiction. Starting with Streamside Days (2003), for which he invented a fictitious party in a real city, and especially in The Host and the Cloud (2009–2010), for which he occupied an abandoned building for several months and allowed a series of events to unfold there, Pierre Huyghe transitioned to engendering situations whose evolution over time constitutes the very nature of the work. Pierre
Huyghe’s work deals with the place of humans within these processes, in which time, space, and chance all play an important role, along with plants, insects, animals, viruses, and illnesses.

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