“I’m more interested in looking for something transitory than in producing a conclusion.”
“I’m interested in contingency,” the French artist Pierre Huyghe has said. “Of what is not predictable. Of what is unknown. I think that has somehow been a core of my work.” Pursuing interests in contingency and unpredictability, Huyghe creates art forms that incorporate living organisms, such as dogs, turtles, spiders, peacocks, ants, and bees. Over the course of an exhibition, his living works of art grow, decay, and die. Huyghe said, “They are not made for us. They are not made to be looked at. They exist in themselves.”
Throughout his career, Huyghe has experimented with many mediums and technologies, including film, sculpture, photography, music, and living ecosystems. At the outset of his career, Huyghe collaborated with artists whose work explored human relations and their social context; to describe their interests, the curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term Relational Aesthetics. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Huyghe’s works often reenacted notable artworks or popular footage from mass media. In Silence Score (English Version), a musical notation of John Cage’s pivotal composition 4'33", he created a readable score for the silent piece using a computer algorithm.
In 1997, with artists Charles de Meaux, Philippe Parreno, and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and curators Xavier Douroux and Franck Gautherot, Huyghe cofounded a film production company called Anna Sanders Films. They named the company after a fictional character first developed in a magazine released in 1997. Blanche-Neige Lucie, the company’s first film, stars Lucie Doléne, the voice actor who dubbed the Disney character Snow White in French, and who won a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Corporation for the rights to the reproduction of her voice. The film features Doléne humming the melody of “Someday My Prince Will Come” in an empty film studio, facing the camera, while her story is told through the subtitles. The work explores how a voice can be used to create a character, and who then owns that product.
The Host and The Cloud fuses scripted action and improvised narratives generated by the actors. The yearlong project records theatrical events that took place in an abandoned museum in Paris on three holidays: the Day of the Dead, Valentine’s Day, and May Day. In a variety of fictional settings, 15 actors clad in LED masks perform alongside puppets and animation. These spontaneous elements reflect Huyghe’s interest in contingency and adding dynamic layers to his storylines.
Originally created for Documenta 13 in 2012, Huyghe’s Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt) is a reclining female nude whose head is covered by a live beehive. The work was part of an entire ecological system the artist created in a composting area in Karlsaue Park in Kassel, Germany. In a video Huyghe filmed during the exhibition, his camera captured a wide range of beings at different scales, including minute species that are barely visible to the naked eye. Huyghe aims to “intensify the presence of things, to find its own particular presentation, its own appearance and its own life, rather than subjecting it to pre-established models.” With interest in “the transitory state, in the in-between,” his complex worlds blur the boundaries between the natural and the artificial, the physical and the virtual, and the real and the fictional. In 2015 and again in 2023, the statue found itself in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, placed in a new context and in conversation with other works of art. During the summer, the bees travel in and out of the garden to pollinate and build their hive.
Huyghe’s artistic practice reflects his belief that life is in constant flux, and that all beings exist beyond the perceivable realm of human senses and knowledge. By engaging with unconventional materials and technologies, he provides us with a way to see, feel, and experience the wild, untilled world we are living in.
Note: Opening quote is from Aitken, Doug, and Pierre Huyghe. “Pierre Huyghe by Doug Aitken.” BOMB Magazine, October 1, 2004. https://bombmagazine.org/articles/pierre-huyghe/.
Eana Kim, Marica and Jan Vilcek Fellow, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2023