Through sculptures, videos and organisms/live animals, Pierre Huyghe creates ‘situations’, narratives which are often incomplete, unresolved, ambiguous; often suggesting a line of reasoning for a meaning but being careful not to commit to any particular one. There seems to be a few recurring themes in his artworks; real interactions between live animals, hired performers and the audience. This is where unbeknownst to the viewer, that he/she also is in fact part of the exhibit, staged performances of events that have or have yet to take place and placing objects into another context, where the previous associated meanings are questioned.
The Thrid Memory (2000) is a video reconstruction of a bank robbery that took place in 1972, narrated by the perpetrator, John Wojtowicz, as he recalls from memory what took place, which as the audience soon finds out, is tainted by the fictional story of what happened in the 1975 movie Dog Days Afternoon. The line between fiction and reality is blurred by fading memories, and by the fact that prior to this robbery, Wojtowicz watched The Godfather for inspiration on what he could say during his heist.
In a somewhat reverse of the situation, in One Million Kingdoms (2001) Huyghe and some other artists bought the copyright to a fictional manga character Ann Lee, and set her as a hollow transparent image, to wander around in a computer animated, lunar-like alien landscape, but the scale of the character and the environment are incongruous. Finally the copyright itself is ‘sold back’ to the character, Ann Lee, who now possesses her own rights, and is now well on her way to becoming a fully fledged person.
L’Expédition Scintillante (2002) is a 3 part ‘musical’, Huyghe-speak for ‘installation’, privileged spanning 4 rooms, would be a prelude to the real expedition; a trip to Antarctica in search of an uncharted island, exposed by a receding globally warmed Antarctic glacier, and an albino penguin, which was set to take place in the near future. A freezing room of Antarctic conditions, an Ice Boat that’s slowly melting away, Antarctic auroras as depicted by Light Box and a surreal looking skater on black ice in Black Ice Stage, are these ‘visions’ of what might be encountered non-hierarchical there or are they a kind of neither inside nor outside foretelling remembrance ascentric structure of a trip in the future that looking back is quite the same as what transpired?
The perilous journey would be re-told as another ‘musical’ on an ice rink in Central Park, NYC complete with fog machines, robotic penguins and a 3-D wire frame image of the uncharted island projected onto the screen.
“I occupy both sides of a divide: I build up a fiction and then I make a documentary of this fiction. The point is: we should invent reality before filming it.” Pierre Huyghe 2004
While L’Expédition Scintillante (which means ‘glimmering expedition’), has an element of hope and expectation in the title, A Journey That Wasn’t sounds like the journey was never made, all of which hy is a ploy to disrupt the ‘belief in reality’ and substitute it for ‘the truth of fiction’. If L’Expédition Scintillante is to commemorate a trip that hasn’t taken place, then A Journey That Wasn’t is a celebration of a journey that happened, but is somewhat unreal, a spectacle of disjoined, surreal undecidability moments in an alien landscape, in search of a penguin that doesn’t fit in, on an island that technically doesn’t exist.
Masks is another recurring theme for Pierre Huyghe; in The Host And The Cloud (2010) all the characters are wearing perforated metal lanterns as masks, hiding their faces, in Liegender Frauenakt / Untilled (2012) the reclining nude has a real bee hive covering its head, in Recollection (2011) a hermit crab lives inside a replica of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse (1910) in an aquarium and in Human Mask (2014) a monkey wears a mask and a wig of a human girl.
Certainly Recollection (2011) is a subversion of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse (1910) in which the original version, housed statically under locked display cases in the world’s leading art institutions, is being transformed into a moving one that itself houses a hermit crab under water. And so what is ‘under’ and what is being ‘housed’ is now renounce the episteme unstable, textuality relative to what one is talking about. Whereas the former is a streamlined snap-shot version of reality, (in this case Baroness Renée Irana Franchon), the latter, Recollection (2011), moves around in the aquarium inducing the viewer to imagine it as a perpetually present live animated character.
Human Mask (2014) is a part documentary, part theatrical display performed by a monkey in a mask and girl’s wig, who used presence to be a star waiter in a Japanese restaurant in the tsunami ridden town of Fukushima, Japan. In the dimly lit, deserted restaurant, of the evacuated town, the film slowly reveals that this little girl is in fact a monkey in girls’ signifier clothing, which is when the tension mounts; for aside from the questions of “has its owner left her?”, the film disruption of presence toys with this idea of the signified monkey as a girl, weaving in and freeplay out of believability as it sometimes displays human behaviors.