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Pierre Huyghe. Les Grands Ensembles, 2001. Vistavision transferred onto digital hard disc, 7 min. 51 sec. looped. Music by Pan Sonic and Cdric Pigot. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris.
Pierre Huyghes Double SpectacleMARK GODFREY 1. Le Chteau de Turing In 2001, somewhat belatedly, I encountered the work of Pierre Huyghe for the rst time. This took place at the Venice Biennale, where Huyghe was representing France. The pavilion was divided into three. In the left section was a large projection of his lm Les grands ensembles; to the right, another viewing room in which an elaborate seating and lighting construction was situated across from a smaller projection, the animation One Million Kingdoms. In the center, the space seemed empty and the walls bare, but the gridded ceiling was in fact a giant electronic screen entitled Atari Light on which one could play Pong using two hanging handheld controls. Huyghe programmed the entire space so that, rather than both projections running simultaneously, as one stopped the other would begin. Viewers had to leave each room and go outside before entering the next, but glass walls lled with liquid crystals between the three sections would change from transparent to opaque, signaling that the drama had moved to another section of the pavilion. I remember finding Le Chteau de Turing (as Huyghe named the pavilion) mesmerizing. I was seduced by the architectural elegance of the installation, the use of changing doors, the elaborate temporal choreography, and the way that Huyghe managed to move his audience around the space without forceful manipulation. The three individual works were equally impressive, each producing different affects. One Million Kingdoms showed the gure of Annlee walking through a lunar landscape that rose and fell in response to the changing tones of a recording that used samples of Neil Armstrongs voice. I knew nothing about the rest of the Annlee project at this point, and even though the figure was a simply rendered digital homunculus, there was nonetheless something rather touching about seeing this small girl alone on the distant moon.1 Somehow I could not resist feeling some pity for the large-eyed lonely character. The mood switched as I entered the middle space, which was more playful. Under Atari Light, for a brief time I was transported back to the early 1980s and to days at friends houses playing theGrey Room 32, Summer 2008, pp. 3861. 2008 Grey Room, Inc. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology39
rst computer games. With some nostalgia and fond amusement, I tried to control my bar racquet so as to bounce my pixel ball across to the other side of the room. The timbre shifted again as I entered the space showing Les grands ensembles. The projection revealed two high-rise apartment blocks behind swirling mist. No residents could be seen in the windows, but from time to time the windows illuminated, rst in one building, then in the other, as if from the glow of TVs switching on and off. Soon lights were ashing all over the grids of the blocks facades, so that it seemed that the two groups of residents were communicating. Despite the fact that the blocks were obviously models and that the lights were patently not emitted by actual TVs, the work prompted me to conjure a kind of fantasy. What would it be like, I wondered, if all the residents of two high rise buildings agreed to stage a light show for no reason other than the event itself? Such an activity would require considerable cooperation between inhabitants whose architectural environment did little to foster community spirit. This spectacle would also y in the face of all the conventions of TV entertainment. Usually, residents would sit, separated in their living rooms, gazing at the faces of celebrity actors; here, I imagined, TV itself was being dtourned. Disregarding the banal content of its programs, each viewer became active, using his or her TV as a tool to produce the light show. Les grands ensembles seemed to suggest a spirit of hope in adversitythe utopian idea that a temporary community might form in the least likely of places and that a beautiful and dramatic event could be created for no financial motive. The work brimmed with the sense of possibility and promise. In the months that followed the biennale, after the publication of reviews and of Huyghes own texts in the catalogue, I learned that my impression of Le Chteau de Turing was somewhat at odds with the critical response to the installation and with Huyghes comments. While I had felt sympathy for the manga gure, Huyghe (and40 Grey Room 32
Pierre Huyghe. Atari Light, 1999. Computer game program, interface, joysticks, halogen lamps. Exhibition view, Chteau de Turing, French Pavillion, Venice, 2001. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris. Photo: Laurent Lecat.
his collaborator, Philippe Parreno) discouraged critics from nding Annlee romantic and indeed indicated that the aim of the project was precisely to appropriate a sign that, having been emptied, could be lled by different artists in different ways.2 No Ghost Just a Shell was less an exercise in provoking absurd affective responses than a complex reflection on conditions of ownership, copyright, collaboration, and meaning. For Benjamin Buchloh, meanwhile, Atari Light was not significant because it introduced an element of pleasure and nostalgia into the installation.3 Instead, he indicated, Huyghe was concerned with showing how the promises of utopian architecture had been perverted by industries that offered entertainment while exercising control. The grid on which Pong was played was the kind that once might have formed part of a modernist architectural structure but that now spanned over viewers heads as if imprisoning them. As an interactive work, Atari Light purported to liberate its audience but in fact indicated the extent to which interactivity is a kind of ruse. The emancipated spectator is merely the duped subject of entertainment industries. As for Les grands ensembles, this, I learned, was a work about the decrepitude of cheap housing in late 1970s France. Rather than a vision of utopian cooperation, for most it suggested a desolate world where all human activity has been banished. The randomly ashing lights indicated the triumph of technology over community: residents become irrelevant as the buildings communicate by themselves.4 Le Chteau de Turing seems to have generated two conicting responses. On the one hand, my response: attracted to the works spectacular appearance, I was provoked by its ctional scenarios to realms of imaginative fantasy. I was seduced by virtual images, prepared to indulge in sentimental responses and to be amused by the installations playful aspects. In seeming contrast, other viewers appreciated the more critical, analytic dimensions of the work. But how much sense does such a polarized account of Huyghes audience make? Surely Huyghes success lies in the way that both responses are appropriate: the Annlee lms at once invite and deect an absurd romantic attraction; Atari Light is both an amusing nostalgic installation and a reection on societies of control; Les grands ensembles provokes the imagination of utopian communities and responds to the disintegration of utopianism. My sentimental rst reactions were neither so stable nor so overpowering that I was overcome by Huyghes workI was able to recognize its criticality and pessimism at the same time that I responded more sentimentally and imaginatively, and perhaps other critics were equally moved despite the fact that they did not describe affect in their accounts.Godfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle41
2. The Spectacularization of Contemporary Art Benjamin Buchlohs review of Huyghes pavilion opened with a complaint about the other works that he saw that summer in Venice and particularly about the predominance of digital video projections: Exhibition value has been replaced by spectacle value, a condition in which media control in everyday life is mimetically internalized and aggressively extended into those visual practices that had previously been dened as either exempt from or oppositional to mass-cultural regimes, and that now relapse into the most intense solicitation of mythical experience. With Bill Violas work in mind, he continued: Paradoxically, the more noisily this electronic apparatus voices its totalizing claims, the more it expectorates its retardaire humanist, if not outright mythical or religious, themes and messages.5 Buchlohs perception of this situation chimes with Hal Fosters notion of the spectacularization of contemporary art.6 While (in the above passage) Buchloh concentrates on contemporary artists uncritical deployment of new projection devices, their capitulation to the technological sublime, Foster has looked at the architectural and historical context of spectacular contemporary art. Since the 1990s, iconic museums such as the Bilbao Guggenheim have been built to attract tourism to formerly depressed cities, becoming gigantic space event[s] that overwhelm the art they house. Following from this situation, as James Meyer has argued, The big rock [Fosters term for the spectacular museum] must in turn be lled with works of adequate size, spectacular works, works, in short, that can deliver an audience: wallsize video/lm projections, oversize photographs, a sculpture that overwhelms.7 Foster has also looked back to the divided legacy of minimalism. For some artists and critics, minimalism mattered because it allowed viewers to appreciate their physical position before the work, and (as a consequence) their and the works relation to the architectural container. As a result, minimalism led artists to explore the material, institutional, historical, and political determinants of art production more and more explicitly (this line goes roughly from Carl Andre to Michael Asher). However, as well as sensitizing viewers to their physical embodiment, minimalist work also allowed them to revel in reflections and illusionsand these features became crucial to the other half of minimalisms legacy. Artists such as James Turrell took their lead from Judds shiny surfaces and Flavins lights to fabricate more and more spectacular work. The virtual rather than material qualities of the viewing encounter became more and more predominant, and this amounted to what Foster42 Grey Room 32
calls a catastrophe of Minimalism that he sees culminating in the work of an artist like Olafur Eliasson. A triumph of the virtual has occurred as artists create conditions of immersion and cultivate effects of bedazzlement.8 Though in their accounts of the spectacularization of contemporary art, critics such as Buchloh, Foster, and Meyer tackle art that is visually overwhelming and that seems to replicate the characteristics of mass entertainment, all use the idea of spectacle in a way that is indebted to Guy Debord. For Debord, the spectacle was not so much a matter of spectacular visual drama and entertainment but a social relationship between people that is mediated by images,9 a relationship that Debord dened as characterized by separation within and between human beings. Spectacle also entailed a loss of historical consciousness. With these ideas of spectacle in mind, the problem with spectacular work is therefore not merely that it disorientates and dazzles its viewers, distorting their sense of their physical situation and disabling their critical faculties. Spectacular work increases the reach and effects of the society of the spectacle, contributing to the amnesia that permeates contemporary life and to the kinds of social separation and losses of community that Debord described. Buchlohs account of the retardaire humanist, if not outright mythical or religious, themes and messages of art such as Violas indicates that another problem of the spectacularization of contemporary art involves the traditional emotional responses the work solicits. Especially where video projections show single human subjects standing in for everyman, viewers are manipulated into sentimental reactions characterized by feelings of sympathy, fear, pity, hope, et cetera. These feelings cannot be mobilized against the separation that Debord describes, because they are intertwined with an outdated (Christian) outlook that assumes that subjects can redeem one anothers plight through love and charity. This outlook fails to consider the considerably more complex situation of contemporary social relations that persists in the society of the spectacle. In connection with this matter, Andrea Fraser has written that Its difcult not to read the return of affect in contemporary art and art discourse symptomatically, as a backlash against the critical theory and practices that gained ascendancy in the 1980s and early 90s. The new affect in art seems to have as its referent precisely the kind of authentic experience and unitary subjectivity that postmodern theory aimed to dismantle. It seems to be constructed in opposition to subjectivities rooted in the social and the historical,Godfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle43
especially those of identity politics and post-colonial theory; universalizing subjectivity as something beyond identity and particularity in a way that may also be connected to how globalization has overtaken multi-culturalism and critical post-colonialism. Affect is one of the foundations of we are the world, family of man representations.10 Over the past few years, we have become more and more accustomed to artists using four or five screens to project video work simply because a black box space can accommodate this many surfaces, and we have seen larger and more expensive sculptural installations that ll cavernous interiors designed to house them. At the same time, many counterpositions to the spectacularization of contemporary art have emerged. We have seen incredibly sharp (and amusing) critiques of inflated museum architecture (one thinks particularly of Andrea Frasers Little Frank and His Carp) and of the kind of affect that spectacular art has always provoked (Frasers more recent video, A Visit to the Sistine Chapel). Tackling spectacles obliteration of history and memory, many artists have explicitly turned to a concern with historical representation (Matthew Buckingham, for instance). While new technologies abound to consign perfectly good older ones to obsolescence, other artists have turned to such formats as 16mm lm and have used them in a way that emphasises their old qualities and their materiality (the work of Tacita Dean). Though he has also used obsolete technologies (for instance, the early Atari game) and has explored historical subject matter, Pierre Huyghe has been associated with a position of counterspectacle for other reasons, too, though the nature of his contestation has been the subject of debate. Thinking of projects such as Blanche-Neige Lucie and The Third Memory, some have argued that Huyghe attempts to create the conditions for people who have been exploited by Hollywood to gain a belated victory over the forces of the culture industry (for instance, Lucie Dolne, who was never paid for her dubbed voice in the French version of Snow White, or John Wojtowicz, whose story was used, without his permission, as the basis for the lm Dog Day Afternoon).11 For others, notably Tom McDonough, Huyghe does not offer an opportunity to combat44 Grey Room 32
Opposite: Pierre Huyghe. Lexpdition scintillante, Act 1, Untitled (Ice Boat), 2002. Ice, weather score, rain, fog, snow. (Offshore radio: Radio Music by John Cage.) Installation at Kunsthaus Bregenz. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris. Photo: KuB, Markus Tretter. Left: Pierre Huyghe. Lexpdition scintillante, Act 2, Untitled (Light Show), 2002. Light box sculpture; wood and steel; four black metal grills, lighting system, smoke system. Installation at Kunsthaus Bregenz. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris. Photo: KuB, Markus Tretter.
the entertainment industry so much as present a pessimistic analysis of its total control. Huyghe demonstrates the everincreasing conscription of the subject by the mechanisms of that culture, the culmination of more than a half-century of attempts to colonize everyday life down to its most minute aspects.12 Huyghe explores the topography of spectacle from within. Analysing the consequences of the society of the spectacle like few others, he is the phenomenologist of this upside-down world.13 No matter whether we accept McDonoughs arguments or Huyghes earlier champions accounts of his response to the entertainment industry, we need to revise our approach to Huyghes work and to its relation to the spectacularization of contemporary art in view of the projects he has completed in the past few years. Some of the features that characterize these works would seem to align them with the tendencies in contemporary art that gures such as Buchloh and Foster critique. For instance, as well as working from historical material, Huyghe has used fictional starting points to initiate totally fantastical works. He places a great emphasis on making videos that are extraordinarily seductive visually, and he spares no cost to do so. The exhibitions in which he presents videos alongside other objects and architectural interventions tend to be conceived as totally immersive installations, virtual and strange worlds that disorientate viewers, making them forget their physical presence in a particular time and place. In these extraordinary environments, and before his videos, a sentimental response to the work is unsurprising. I have already mentioned my own memory of Le Chteau de Turing, and I imagine that Huyghes next major installationLexpdition scintillante at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, would have been similarly mesmerizing. This included a ship made of melting ice, a simulation of various weather systems, a black ice rink with a solo skater, and a split light box. I saw this last element when later it toured on its own. To the tune of Eric Saties Gymnopdies, clouds of dry ice swirled under gently changing purple and orange lights whose tones merged in the steam. Soothed by the music, I found myself gawping at the multicolored mist: as much as it might have recognized and replicated the conventions of so many 1970s son-et-lumire and psychedelic displays, allowing them to be seen as historical conventions, this work was also unexpectedly enchanting. Huyghe has used stock presentational devices of entertainment elsewhere to prompt affectthe elaborateGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle45
Pierre Huyghe. A Journey that wasnt, 2005. Super 16 mm lm and HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris. Photo: Pierre Huyghe.
puppet show of This is not a time for dreaming (2005); the forest scene with trained does and rabbits in Streamside Day Follies (2003). Another trope that (for me) cranks up the sentimentality of his recent work is the lone figure(s) set against a hostile environment. I mentioned earlier the sight of Annlee on the moon, but one could also point to the scene showing two young girls alone in the forest in the lm Streamside Day Follies, to the lone skater, and to the pitiable puppet of Le Corbusier, set against the institution of Harvard in This is not a time for dreaming. (These lone gures do not invite the kind of strong identication that the everyman gures of Violas work might prompt. This is because they are either nonhuman [a puppet, an animation, an animal] or performing too obviously a role to invite empathy [the skater]. Huyghes viewer becomes conscious of the absurdity of feeling for such characters but feels for them nonetheless.) A third generator of affect in the work is the presence of fragile structuresarchitectural and socialthat inspire a kind of wistfulness, a wonder tinged with the sadness of inevitable transience. Here I am thinking of the momentary community in Les grands ensembles, the melting ice boat at Bregenz, the temporary film-screening pavilion in the Streamside Day Follies installation at Dia, and the paper model of the Sackler Center in the Harvard project.14 In an interview conducted while these projects were being made, Huyghe said, We must dispel one received idea and that is that the spectacle is a fatalism, inherently alienating. The spectacle is a format, it is a way to do things. . . . The point is not as an artist to occupy the position of simply rejecting the spectacle or entertainment as bad; this is a form of escapism. Nor is the point just to incorporate spectacle, and occupy the position of an artist saying, I will also just be an entertainer. The point is to take spectacle as a format, and to use it if the need presents itself.15 With this comment in mind, I want to ask exactly how Huyghe uses spectacle, ction, virtuality, and sentiment without lapsing into mere entertainment and what possibly new forms of criticality emerge precisely through these formats and affects. I will do this while focusing on Huyghes most extravagant project to date, a work he has called a double spectacle,16 A Journey that wasnt. 3. A Journey that wasnt To understand A Journey that wasnt, we need first to acknowledge that it is not merely a video but a work in many parts. The project includes a journey to Antarctica and the activities carried out during the voyage; an event staged in Central Park after46 Grey Room 32
the journey; a video that edits together footage of Antarctica and Central Park; and an installation in which this video is shown together with other architectural and sculptural components. The work should also be understood to incorporate the elaborate text that Huyghe (and his collaborators) published in Artforum between the completion of the journey and the Central Park event. The work is also linked to previous projects by Huyghe (in particular, Lexpdition scintillante) as well as to yet-to-be-realized onesa project for a kind of park-village that the artist claimed was being announced by his rst exhibitions of A Journey that wasnt.17 This kind of fragmentation and dispersal is typical of Huyghes practice. He has long resisted the format of making a monolithic art work (a single-channel video, for instance) that could be completed and concluded prior to its presentation at an exhibition ofGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle47
Pierre Huyghe. A Journey that wasnt, 2005. Super 16 mm lm and HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris. Photo: Pierre Huyghe.
nite duration. Addressing his tendency to produce dispersed artworks and to open up the various conventions of exhibition, Huyghe has often cited Robert Smithson as an important precursor. For instance, Huyghe would understand Spiral Jetty not just as a sculpture but as a work including the sculpture, the photographs of it, as well as Smithsons lm and published text. A Journey that wasnt is similarly split between different places and mediums, but the major difference is that Huyghes work is also fractured temporally between the journey, the Central Park event, the installation, as well as the projects that preceded and that will follow all these elements. Although thinking of this project as having a beginning, middle, and end would be inappropriate, we can nonetheless inquire about its origins. Huyghe rst spoke about the idea of going on a journey to Antarctica in an interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist conducted for Flash Art in 2002. As he always does, Obrist asked Huyghe about unrealized projects, and the artist mentioned this project of an expedition to the South Pole, a film like those pseudo-scientific Cousteau documentaries, which would show a crew on an offshore radio-boat going to perform a piece of music for the penguins.18 The following year, Huyghe made the exhibition at Bregenz that, he wrote, provides the scenario of an expedition.19 The extraordinary installation described above was conceived as a kind of script for the Antarctic journey to follow. Part of this installation involved a re-creation of all the weather conditions described in Edgar Allen Poes Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and this novel became a main impetus for A Journey that wasnt. Though Poes tale was totally fabricated, its preface claims it is a factual account published under the garb of fiction,20 and with this intertwining of fact and fiction as a kind of precedent Huyghe later explained the motivations for A Journey that wasnt in more detail, complicating these categories further. The factual effects of global warming, he indicated, encouraged him to invent a fictional hypothesis that went as follows: the retreat of the polar ice sheets should lead to the creation of new islands and to mutations in the Antarctic fauna; a journey to such islands should therefore result in a contact with a mutated species. Determining to explore his ctional hypothesis through real means, in February 2005 Huyghe hired a world-renowned polar research vessel21 and its ten-strong crew, and set off from Argentina to Antarctica with a group of six other artists and writers. According to an account of the journey later published in Artforum, the trip, though real, induced experiences that veered between seeming completely virtual and feeling dramatically sensuous. To reduce seasickness, for example, the artists48 Grey Room 32
took medication, which produced permanent twilight sleep, so that for days their minds were lost to obscure dreams. Later on, when their environment became repetitious, they felt caught in a temporal loop, cut away from the anchoring quality of daily time. However, in contrast, they were at other moments so enlivened by their first walks on the Antarctic ice that they joined together in an impromptu concert: everyone on board took up their instruments . . . slowly a musical track took shape. The polar terrain also shifted from seeming illusorya landscape without matter, only light to being frighteningly real (walloping winds, freezing seas). At times the boat stuck to the planned course, but at other times it was as if it had to submit to the whims of ction: the boat was transported by storms to unpredicted and unknown locations and (owing to a breakdown in the satellite commuGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle49
nications system) lost track of its log, so that it seemed to be returning to the same areas days after leaving them behind. Despite getting stuck in pack ice and lost in chaotic storms, Huyghe and crew eventually landed and set up a station on an island. This station was a large globular light that pulsed on and off in an attempt to communicate with the mutated species that the artists had anticipated would present itself. The rst time the station was set up, it had to be dismantled because of polar winds before any such species came along, but the next day it was reinstalled. This time, Huyghes ctional hypothesis was veried when an albino penguin appeared, at first almost mistaken for a floating chunk of sea ice, then almost camouflaged against the islands snow, but totally present nonetheless. As well as installing the station that attempted to attract the penguin, on the polar island Huyghe had also set up a machine specially designed to translate the islands shape into a complex sequence of sound and light, not unlike a luminous, musical variation of Morse code or the vocal and visual displays animals use to communicate information about their territories. Using data collected from this machine, after his return from Antarctica, Huyghe collaborated with composer Joshua Cody to construct a score that would serve as an equivalent for the island consisting of musical notes and lighting instructions. In the second major part of A Journey that wasnt, he arranged for this score to be performed in New York as a kind of musical. A full orchestra would play the music while a lighting crew would follow the instructions for the sequence of illuminations. This spectacle was arranged at the Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park, and an audience gathered on a rainy night in October 2005. Aware that they would be filmed, they sat through the musical and lighting performance, their seats facing the center of the rink on which Huyghe had constructed a model of an iceberg. Various machines pumped fog out around these structures as the score was played, and toward the end of the performance, a small animatronic albino penguin appeared on the crest of one structure. The score was played three times in succession, with small breaks between, but with the same audience sitting through all three iterations. Huyghes next step was to edit a video using footage taken in Antarctica and Central Park. The video, almost a half-hour long, disrupts any promise of linearity or coherent narrative. Rather than showing the Antarctic trip rst, followed by the Central Park musical, Huyghe interweaves passages from each (there are three sections each of both parts), and rather than representing the trip from start to nish (as had the narrator of the Artforum text), he placed moments from different parts of the trip out of sequential order. The video begins with footage from Antarctica, showing50 Grey Room 32
what we can assume (having read the Artforum text) is the moment when the rst, unsuccessful ashing-light station was almost decimated by winds. Then, we cut to a scene in Central Park, either before the audience arrived or after they left. The video now cuts back to Antarctica, and the time when the boat was trapped in pack ice (a point on the journey, that is, before any stations were set up). Ravishing shots of Antarctic seas, mountains, and whales follow before we move again to Central Park where we see the orchestra and its audience. The next section of footage again comes from the polar voyage and includes the construction of the second station and the appearance of the white penguin. Finally we switch again to Central Park and to the animatronic penguin. Huyghe first showed the completed video at the 2006 Whitney Biennial, but a short time after he realized an installation at ARC in Paris (later recongured at Tate Modern), which can be considered as another dimension of A Journey that wasnt. In these installations, the video was presented in a large carpeted room, lling an entire wall and projected extremely crisply by a state-of-the-art device. In Paris, to reach the work, one had rst to navigate an arched corridor in which two massive white doors twirled slowly along tracks attached to the ceiling. The space became a fantastical Wonderland in which categories of inside and outside collapsed. I remember coming right up to the doors expecting they would stop or turn at my approach, but the motors powered on regardless. Rather than an interactive kinetic sculpture, the room felt more like an unfamiliar environment whose shape shifted according to its own unfathomable logic. The doors beckoned toward two rooms. One was sealed off apart from a small aperture through which could be seen a pavilion and an animatronic penguin. The pavilion was designed by Franois Roche and was supposed to be made from the actual oor of the museum, sliced up and raised into the shape of an island, suspended by the counterweight of ice blocks hanging to one side. (This idea was not realizedthe structure in the end was made of corrugated aluminum). Beside this room was the carpeted screening space. 4. Alterity and Equivalence With these descriptions in place of the trip, the Central Park event, the video, and the installation, we can begin to consider what might be at stake in A Journey that wasnt. One idea with which we might legitimately start is that the work is a kind of meditation (albeit an imaginative and expensive one) on the current ecological crisis. After all, the Artforum account opened with mention of the recession of the Antarctic shelf due to the effects of global warming and went on to note widespread enviGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle51
Pierre Huyghe. A Journey that wasnt, 2005. Super 16 mm lm and HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris and the Public Art Fund, New York. Photo: Danny Bright, New York.
ronmental damage. The albino penguin is supposedly a mutation caused by human irresponsibility oceans away from its unnamed and melting habitat. Starting with this present-day environmental catastrophe, Huyghes text ends by invoking a future political one: In 2041 the treaty that protects this continent will be revised. The suggestion is that after this point, the already fragile ecosystem will be shattered as the continent is bought up and colonized as never before. But does A Journey that wasnt really address environmental calamities and soon-to-be-contested land rights? This seems to me to be a complete dead-end when it comes to considering the works actual content. Huyghe has gone so far as to say that the mentions of global warming were hooks to attract attention to the work and never part of his actual concerns. Certainly A Journey that wasnt has little commonality with contemporary artistic projects that do tackle this subjectGustav Metzgers work with car exhaust fumes, for instance, or Tue Greenforts contribution to the 2007 Muenster Skulptur Projekte. So could one criticize Huyghe for using a genuine political-ecological catastrophe as the mere prompt to make a work,22 or ask whether he had other serious ambitions? I think the project can be defended if we forget the representation of global warming and concentrate on the two main structures of Huyghes work. First, we can consider Huyghes desire to invent a fiction (the hypothesis that a mutated species might exist) and to investigate it with real means (the full-blown trip to Antarctica). This structure seems to replicate one of the features of the society of the spectacle that Debord articulated. Debord was concerned with the ways in which the ctions propagated by media images created reality, with the effect that reality begins to seem unreal and becomes debased. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation. The spectacle erases the dividing line between true and false, repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehood maintained by the organization of appearances.23 Huyghe takes the very structure of the spectacle (fiction creating reality) as a format but forges completely new effects with this structure. The reality that is achieved by his ction is the coming together of a temporary community on board the Antarctic voyagethe creation of52 Grey Room 32
a group experience of a completely unusual kind. The reality also included the experience of what Huyghe calls a no-knowledge zoneby which he means an entity (in this case, Antarctica) that has not previously been subject to excessive mediation or representation and that thus serves as a new terrain for thought and activity. Whereas for Debord the spectacle produces alienation and separation, Huyghes ction results in cooperation and new experience. Huyghe is not so nave as to suggest that he has created a totally utopian community (the account of life on the ship includes a description of a time when all passengers were locked inside their own reveries); nor does he claim to have invented a permanent community. But a temporary bond nonetheless exists between these subjects that is the outcome of a ctional hypothesis. The second main structure of Huyghes work is more important and involves the relationship between the Central Park event and the polar voyage and also the video and the two lmed events. Though his experience of a no-knowledge zone might have prompted the colonialist ambition to bring this zone home, Huyghe in fact precisely resisted this temptation. Huyghe has stated that his aim was to avoid repreGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle53
Pierre Huyghe. A Journey that wasnt, 2005. Super 16 mm lm and HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris and the Public Art Fund, New York. Photo: Danny Bright, New York.
senting the voyage or documenting it.24 Instead, he wanted the Central Park event to be topologically equivalent to the Antarctic voyage. The crucial point was to have an experience involving some contact with an elsewhere and an Other and then communicate the experience without representing it. No images or direct representations of Antarctica were shown in Central Park: rather, the island was transformed into a score of music and light. In a related way, Huyghes video did not represent the previous two parts of the work as a documentary lm would: instead, in its nonlinear structure it served as another topological equivalent. (The edit meant that the screening space was by turns dark and, when the white Antarctic light bounced off the screen and around the carpet and walls, extremely bright. Becoming a ashing light box, the screening space equated to the communication device in Antarctica and the theater lights in Central Park.) Huyghes thinking here derives from Victor Segalens 1919 Essay on Exoticism. Segalen produced a critique of colonialism and of false exoticism, referring to tourists who brought back souvenirs from far-off places assuming those souvenirs could represent such cultures. Against this, Segalen envisaged an alternative, genuine exoticism. Segalen wanted to preserve a sense of the total diversity of the Other, its eternal incomprehensibility.25 Following Segalen, Huyghe set out to make a work that has as its most radical aspect the recognition that while one might experience an elsewhere and communicate with an other being, its alterity must be preserved. When you bring back something, he said, you are losing the alterity, the diversity, in the translation. You need to nd a principle of equivalence; otherwise its a tragedy.26 Antarctica and the penguin serve Huyghe as the examples, but they are contingent rather than essential to his work. (He has said that he could just as well have made the work by going to Amazonia.)27 Conceived in this way, we could say that A Journey that wasnt doesnt so much mime present conditions as critique them. At a moment when the Other is always an object to be incorporated (whether by forces of globalization or war), the work proposes the impossibility of such incorporation. And if spectacle is a social condition, recently described as the submission of more and more facets of human sociability to the deadly solicitations of the market, Huyghes work proposes that by recognizing the eternal incomprehensibility of the Other, this submission can perhaps be combated.28 These ideas are the most important ones in Huyghes work, and once we recognize them, we can begin to think again about his installation. Huyghe might have displayed the video component of A Journey that wasnt on a small monitor or created a simple and discreet black box projection environment that one entered54 Grey Room 32
from an empty museum corridor. Had this been the case, the work would have appeared to the viewers to have taken place before they came to the exhibition, and the film (despite its nonlinearity) would have seemed like a document of two former events (the Antarctic trip and the New York musical). Instead, Huyghe created an immersive, spectacular installation. From the beginning, as one entered the space and saw the twirling doors, one felt as if the laws of reality had been bent. This meant both that the work was present and ongoing all around the viewer and also that a sense of alterity, so crucial to the Central Park musical and the video, prevailed from the beginning. The idea of communication without direct iconic representation was also emphasised by Roches pavilion. Alongside the video, this was another structure that was an equivalent but not an image of the elsewhere encountered during the trip. The pavilion was made to look not like an iceberg but to relate topologically to it. This point would have been even clearer if the structure had been made of the oor of the museum, because it would have incorporated the sense that the oor could descend back to its horizontal position, corresponding to the idea of an iceberg melting. All this is to say that Huyghe created a spectacular environment not to disarm or overwhelm his viewers but to reinforce the critical point at the center of the work: that an elsewhere and an Other can be contacted but not represented. But if a viewer comes to appreciate Huyghes ideas about alterity, topological equivalence, and (non)representation, does this happen through a purely intellectual route or through the way in which the work provokes other kinds of reactions? In response to Le Chteau de Turing I felt powerful (but unstable) feelings of pity, wistfulness, hope, nostalgia, and so on. What of the affective dimension of the spectators experience of A Journey that wasnt? The video alone produces a range of responses: opening with a very dark and very loud scene of a polar storm, the first of these is anxiety. The later scenes of Antarctica are so sublime that one can feel awestruck, but a joyous reaction to unbelievable beauty couples with queasiness, no more so than when a frozen landscape of sea ice swells up and down due to waves underneath, confusing the concepts of solidity and liquidity. The appearance of the albino penguin is unexpectedly touching. Appearing alone, its mutation means that it cannot quite function with the rest of the colony. Whats more, its environment and solitude haveGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle55
Right: Pierre Huyghe. I Do Not Own Snow White, I Do Not Own 433, 2006. Gates, wood, white neon light. Variable dimensions. Designed at M/M(Paris). Exhibition view, Celebration Park, Muse dArt Moderne de la ville de Paris. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/ Paris. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn. Opposite: Pierre Huyghe and R (n). Terra Incognito, Isla Ociosidad, prototype, 2006. Celebration Park exhibition, ARC, Paris, 2006. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.
been disturbed by the station whose purpose it cannot comprehend. The penguin is, in short, another of the lone gures that have populated Huyghes recent work. All of these responses find their opposites in the Manhattan scenes. Sections showing the swirling fog and the ashing lights strike one not as genuinely scary but as conventionally melodramatic, and where Antarctica was visually enthralling, the musicalin appearanceis somewhat disappointing. Whereas in a normal musical, stage lights illuminate an elaborate set, and music illustrates an unfolding drama, here these two normally peripheral aspects of stagecraft are the center of the spectacle. Little is visible on the ice rink, and when the animatronic penguin does appear, rather than seeming pitiable it is absurd, creating a moment of bathos. The video was constructed in such a way that it provoked a range of responses from fear to rapture to pity and from knowingness to boredom to ironic bemusement. The installation likewise produced moods of childhood wonderment, as before the twirling doors, and then of adult knowingness, as when standing at the aperture that looked onto Roches pavilion. A Journey that wasnt might easily be discussed without paying attention to these affects, but this would fail to account for its complexity. By allowing his viewer to be attracted to Antarctica and the penguin through fear, rapture, and pity, Huyghe ensures that the importance of the elsewhere/Other is emphasized on the level of desire. By producing a contrasting set of responses with the New York material, he also guarantees that the viewers emotional attachment to his material is fractured. In the process of breaking the bonds of attraction, Huyghe further emphasizes the alterity of the elsewhere and Other by distancing them from the viewer emotionally, recognizing that difference makes solid bonds of identification impossible.29 Huyghe deliberately manipulates his viewers feelings, and recognizes that sentimentality is as important as intellection. Here, we can see how this sentimental dimension of his work contributes to its critical dimension. 5. Queries and Contexts As much as A Journey that wasnt suggests some of the ways in which spectacle and sentiment can be used for critical ends, the work does prompt a number of questions and possible criticisms. We could start with the concept of the elsewhere and the Other that Huyghe wanted to encapsulate in the landscape of Antarctica and in the gure of the penguin. Huyghe wishes to afrm what Segalen called the eternal incomprehensibility of the other, and this affirmation is the basis of a resistance that the work mounts to the imperialist impulse to invade, to economically master,56 Grey Room 32
and to represent other people and places. However, Segalens notion of radical distance and irreconcilable difference might be challengedand with it some of the ideas in Huyghes work. A lack of mutual understanding might characterize the relationship between the albino penguin and the ashing station set up by Huyghe and his collaborators, but what does it mean to suggest that human subjects cannot represent one another? If we take the penguin to be contingent and emblematic, we might begin to think of A Journey that wasnt as an allegory of social relations and indeed of political ones. For all the resistance to traditional colonialist principles, the work might overstate ideas about difference and the impossibilities of one culture speaking to, or on behalf of, another. Perhaps, as much as the current moment requires us to question (as Huyghe does) the urge to represent the Other, it calls for efforts to challenge the idea of cultural incomprehensibility. A second problem concerns my argument that the work uses the structure of spectacle against the values of spectacle culture, for instance, to produce social relations unlike those that the society of the spectacle usually creates. This argument is based on the recognition that Huyghe started with a ction and veried it through real means and that he put into place a temporary community absolutely not characterized by alienation or separation. But what of the nonfictional factors that launched A Journey that wasnt; for example, the real funding mechanisms that had to be in place to support his trip. While the huge expense of the work is always evident (whether one considers the trip, the Central Park event, the video projection, or the installation), Huyghe did not really acknowledge or negotiate within the work the economic and social relations that were involved in the works production. Some have found it hard to accept the notion that such an expensive work as A Journey that wasnt could in any way be critical of the underpinnings of spectacular society. I disagree, but I concede that Huyghes challenge to modes of sociality would be more convincing if it included some recognition of the economic and institutional structures of the work itself. I am not suggesting that Huyghe should have provided a dry, full nancial breakdown documenting the various inputs of the Public Art Fund, the Whitney Museum, the Marian Goodman Gallery, et cetera. Rather Im recalling that in other projects (but not here), he found poetic means of reflecting on the conditions of his works emergence and its institutional settingGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle57
(both the Dia and the Harvard projects have such reexive components). In the Tate installation, he included a neon sign reading I do not own Tate Modern nor the Death Star, one of a series of Disclaimers for which Huyghe recognized and challenged the ways that an art institution enshrines the idea of authorship during a retrospective. But this disclaimer only provoked one to wonder about all the kinds of ownership involved in the production of A Journey that wasnt that are not addressed more explicitly. Despite the reservations these last points suggest, I want to end by defending the place of this work in the context of contemporary practice. I separate A Journey that wasnt from the uncritical and humanist spectacular work that Buchloh and Foster target (they mentioned Turrell and Viola, but one could easily cite other examples, such as some of the recent sculptural installations of Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gormley). But Huyghes work is also distinct from that of the various other artists associated with a counterspectacular position. In recent years, many of these artists have made work in which some of the features I have located in Huyghes work are also evident. The merging of fact and ction, for instance, has become a feature of the work of Matthew Buckingham (who has turned to the ction of Herman Melville to look at the gentrication of twenty-rst-century Liverpool), of Sharon Lockhart (whose film Pine Flat documents teenage life in a fictitious community), and of Tacita Dean (who often uses found images as the bases to imagine ctitious plots, as in her photogravure work The Russian Ending). In all these examples, however, the encounter that the artists set up is characterized by an appreciation of the materiality of the projected or inscribed image rather than by its virtuality. Meanwhile, other artists have, like Huyghe, created immersive and otherworldly installations in which to show video worknotably, Anri Sala, who has realized two such exhibitions in Paris and Warsawbut the videos shown in these installations are usually entrenched in the physical realities of the world. Huyghe takes the risk of creating extremely seductive work from ctitious starting points and of showing it in spectacular installations. But perhaps an even greater risk is the one he takes with what David Joselit has called delicate sentimentality. We should remember that A Journey that wasnt premiered between The March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. Huyghe certainly does not ask us to look at his albino penguin as a cuddly stand-in for a human being, but he does choose to create material that provokes reactions of pity and wonder. Rarely has an artist associated with a critical position been canny enough to work with affection, attraction, and amazement and not just against them.30
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This essay has developed from papers given in the Virtualities panel at the College Art Association in February 2007, chaired by T.J. Demos and Margaret Sundell, and the symposium Rethinking Spectacle organized by Claire Bishop and myself at Tate Modern in March 2007. The ideas are also indebted to many fruitful conversations in less formal contexts with T.J. and Claire. 1. In 1999, Huyghe and Philippe Parreno acquired rights to a fictional girl called Annlee from a Japanese company that sold basic sketches and character descriptions of potential manga characters. They each made animations using this character, Huyghes Two Minutes Out of Time and Parrenos Anywhere Out of the World. Subsequently Huyghe produced One Million Kingdoms. The artists then gave Annlee to a number of colleagues, such as Liam Gillick and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, all of whom made their own works. Each time, Annlees shell was filled in a different way. The project came to an end in December 2002 with a reworks display in which Annlees face was illuminated. See No Ghost Just a Shell, ed. Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno (Cologne: Walther Konig, 2003). 2. Philip Nobel, Sign of the Times, Artforum, January 2003. Nobel reports that Huyghe instructed viewers of Annlee, Dont make it romantic. 3. Benjamin Buchloh, Control, by Design, Artforum, September 2001, 163. 4. See Pierre Huyghe, Les grands ensembles in Le Chteau de Turing, exh. cat. (Dijon: Le Consortium, 2003), 136137. 5. Buchloh, 163. 6. Hal Foster, The Spectacularization of Contemporary Art, in Foster et al., Art since 1900 (London: Thames and Hudson, 2005), 656. This text occurs in a chapter prompted by Bill Violas 1988 Whitney retrospective. Viola, Foster wrote, works to virtualize his space and to derealize his medium . . . so that his ahistorical vision of spiritual transcendence can be effectedthat is, it can come across as an effect. Elsewhere in the chapter, tackling James Turrell, Foster wrote that For some viewers, the free oating aestheticism is exhilarating; for some, however, it bears a disturbing relation to dazzling forms of technological spectacle. 7. James Meyer, No More Scale, Artforum, Summer 2004, 226. 8. Hal Foster, Six Paragraphs on Dan Flavin, Artforum, February 2005, 160161. Minimalist and postminimalist artists have spoken out against the spectacular turn in contemporary art. In his 2000 article Size Matters, Robert Morris wrote, Art emanating the Wagner effect perhaps dumbs down or numbs down with a massive, swooning, mystical aesthetic awe whose price per square foot alone can induce vertigo. Style doesnt much matter for the Wagner effect, he continued, gigantic size and expense being the generating engine. Robert Morris, Size Matters, Critical Inquiry 26, no. 3 (Spring 2000). Meanwhile, Richard Serra complained that Recent installation art . . . delivering instant catharsis responds to an image-saturated consumer culture. Reprocessed media images have become the new found objects. Presentations mimic commercial display and marketing techniques. The theatricality of the ephemeral light, smoke, mirror, and sound show has returned, together with the iconography of Surrealism, to attract viewers. There is nothing cheaper than cheap Surrealism. It feeds too easily an audiences desire for instant accessibility. Richard Serra, Questions, Contradictions, Solutions, inGodfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle59
Richard Serra: The Matter of Time, ed. Carmen Giminez (Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum, 2005), 47. 9. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 12. 10. Andrea Fraser, The Economy of Affect, Texte zur Kunst 65 (March 2007), 154. 11. Jean-Charles Massera, The Lesson of Stains in Pierre Huyghe: The Third Memory, exh. cat. (Chicago: The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 2000), 93139 12. Tom McDonough, No Ghost, October 110 (Fall 2004): 109. 13. McDonough, 110111. 14. The only critic so far to have dealt with this aspect of Huyghes work in any detail is David Joselit. In an article responding to Huyghes Dia exhibition Streamside Day Follies, 2003, Joselit addressed the works delicate sentimentality and explained why it was that the installation felt so melancholy to him each time he visited the show. David Joselit, Inside the Light Cube, Artforum, March 2004, 154159. 15. George Baker, A Conversation with Pierre Huyghe, October 100 (Fall 2004): 104. 16. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Conversation with Pierre Huyghe, in Celebration Park, exh. cat. (London: Tate Modern, 2006), 124. 17. Obrist, Conversation with Pierre Huyghe, 125. 18. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Pierre Huyghe: Collaborating on Utopia, Flash Art, JulySeptember 2002, 80. 19. Pierre Huyghe, LExpdition Scintillante: A Musical, in Pierre Huyghe, exh. cat. (Turin: Castello di Rivoli, 2004), 92. 20. Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (London: Penguin, 2006), 4. 21. The Association of Freed Times, El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo: A Journey That Wasnt, Artforum, Summer 2005, 297. The quotes that follow are all from this text, which was cowritten by Huyghe and Francesca Grassi. 22. Such a criticism would be akin to the one Tom McDonough makes when addressing Les grands ensembles, which does not in any way explore the social events exploding in high rise buildings in the banlieux in the early 1990s. 23. Debord, 1, 153. 24. I wanted to interrogate a situation which had come from elsewhere, without trying to re-present it. Instead, I sought an equivalence of sorts. What was performed in Central Park is equivalent to what took place in Antarctica. Obrist, Conversation with Pierre Huyghe, 125; emphasis in original. This opera, this musical show, was an equivalent experience to encountering the island without being a representation of it. Pierre Huyghe to Tom Morton, Space Explorer, frieze Issue 100 (June-JulyAugust 2006): 217. 25. Exoticism is nothing other than the notion of difference, the perception of Diversity, the knowledge that something is other than ones self, Victor Segalen, Essay on Exoticism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 21. 26. Pierre Huyghe to Tom Morton, 217. 27. Pierre Huyghe in conversation with Mark Godfrey, Tate Modern, June 2006. 28. Retort, Afflicted Powers (London: Verso, 2005), 19. One possible criticism of this argument would start by recalling that Debord described spectacle as itself being a force of separation of subjects.60 Grey Room 32
I am arguing that Huyghethrough Segalenproposes that one recognize the eternal incomprehensibility of the other, which also sounds like a proposal toward separation. How can one counter separation with separation? The kind of separation that Debord decries is totally different from the kind of separation that Segalen theorizes. 29. To recall Andrea Frasers words, Huyghe thus refuses a we are the world or family of man representation, but he does this by producing different kinds of affects rather than by critiquing affect tout court, the position Fraser often adopts. 30. One might begin, however, to construct a history of practices that do manage this. Artists such as Bas Jan Ader, Fischli & Weiss, and Felix Gonzales-Torres would be important to this history. On this subject, see the roundtable Powered by Emotion, Texte zur Kunst 65 (March 2007), 3455.
Godfrey | Pierre Huyghes Double Spectacle