|Installation View of In. Border. Deep @ Hauser and Wirth|
The Pierre Huyghe exhibition at Hauser and Wirth’s London galleries, In.Border.Deep, was fascinating. The gallery which feels enormous thanks to very high ceilings was blackened out, and on entering, I was overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding. The sounds of what could have been a broken machine, or a madman intermittently hitting a steel post, infused the air with an ominous mood. As often happens in such exhibitions where there is a saturation of visual, or in this case, the erasure of the visual, and aural stimulation, I didn’t know where to begin. I was also captivated by one of the gallery attendants watering a huge sculpture, or cast, which had grown moss over its body. Standing there, watching her, looking for orientation, I wondered what I had entered.
|Pierre Huyghe, La dérasion, 2014|
There was something very human about the care being taken to feed the headless statue, in this otherwise cold, dark environment in which intermittent industrial sounds cut through the air. Apparently (and I missed this) the sculpture contains an internal heating system that mirrors the human circulatory system, enabling it to grow moss. Similarly, I read later that the sculpture’s body temperature can be felt by the visitor. I was so taken by the care with which the moss was being nurtured that I didn’t spend much time with the statue itself.
|Pierre Huyghe, Nymphéas Trasnsplant, Live pond ecosystem, 2014|
This fascination for living bodies, and creatures pervades the whole exhibition. The living habitats of Monet’s geo-engineered ponds in Giverny from 1893 and the subject matter of his famous Nymphéas paintings, had been transplanted into three fishtanks. Apparently, the lighting system for the tanks was determined by the weather at Giverny in the years when Monet painted the Nymphéas. These pieces represent an extremely complex ecosystem that pushed the tanks into the realm of conceptual art. Because they were covered in switchable glass, the water looked murky, and coloured, as though the grime had built up in the tank over months of not being cleaned, but lived in. It was as though each tank contained a science-fiction experiment gone wrong. And yet, it was quite the opposite: independent living organisms from the past, continually reminding us of the uncertain future arising out of the clash between nature and technology.
|Pierre Huyghe, Human Mask, 2014|
Behind a partition was another apocalyptic piece: a film titled Human Mask in which a monkey wears a mask and clothes to assume the persona of a young girl working as a waitress in a restaurant. The film opens with footage of a deserted Fukushima in 2011, so from the beginning we know this will not end well. It’s an experimental film that never lets us look for long at the monkey, but as the monkey starts to show repetitive behaviors, solitary circuits of the enclosed space of the kitchen, serving guests that are not there, picks at her hands, we start to empathize with her. I found myself becoming angry at whoever had put her in this environment. The sound of a tap dripping onto a plastic container is isolated and magnified to sound mechanical. Maggots are found inside the container, and the monkey’s world becomes frightening, enclosed, and we see her as a victim. At one point she sits before a wall with a painted scene, curtained windows behind her which seem to cover an artificial light. Like the fishtanks, the space that should be nourishing (the restaurant) and life-giving reeks of death, disease, apocalypse.
|Pierre Huyghe, Human Mask, 2014|
Framed by Huyghe’s clean aesthetic images and sculptures, these creatures inhabit worlds that turn into horror movies. Like the mixing of sounds to make them abstract, the spaces are no more real than those we imagine. He is creating individual works, that straddle interesting fences and break many rules, both those art is expected to follow, and the moral an ethical rules of the world we inhabit. My only disappointment was that I hadn’t seen his exhibition at the Pompidou Centre last winter.
Images Copyright the artist/Hauser and Wirth