A former ethnographic museum on the grounds of a 150-year-old amusement park on the outskirts of Paris is a fitting setting for Pierre Huyghe’s breakdown of ritual in The Host and The Cloud. Much as the French artist’s sculptural environments create self-contained ecological systems, the film presents itself as a yearlong experiment witnessed and partially recorded on the Day of the Dead, Valentine’s Day, and May Day. In fact, over these three symbolic days, a group of people was placed under controlled parameters combining scripted action and role-playing. Throughout the museum (“Accès aux galleries” is visible in some shots) proceedings as varied as a coronation, a trial, a Black Mass, a hypnosis session, and a runway show are interspersed with puppetry, animation, color-drenched musical interludes, and encounters with fairy tales characters. The work doubles back on itself at times; that two different coronations occur is a reminder that, as the artist puts it, “the relations structuring a subject to its context are cut.” Throughout, characters’ faces are covered by LED masks. (These masks comprise a separate artwork, The Host and the Cloud [Mask], which is in MoMA’s collection).
Within this place of contemporary fantasy, a set of issues are potently mirrored back to the viewer. From the assembly-line production of jack-o’-lanterns to women ritualistically making themselves up as Ronald McDonald to an audio-essay on Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, the structures of capitalism, specifically of the American variety, is apparent. At the start of the film, a trial scene reenacts the prosecution of the French radical group Action Directe in the late 1980s. Toward the end, another trial invokes the 1993 case of virtual rape in the online community LambdaMOO, taken in the film to its gruesome conclusion through voodoo practices. If the first instance asks about the legacy of leftist political action, the second displays the relationship between technology and violence, and points to the artist’s wider interest in avatars and the blurred lines between reality and fiction. Despite the densely layered references and surreal encounters that characterize Huyghe’s cinematic microcosm, this virtual reality is utopian in its radical immediacy.
These screenings are held in conjunction with the installation of Huyghe’s sculpture Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt) in The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden.
Organized by Sophie Cavoulacos, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film.