Pierre Huyghe

“I am interested in constructing the condition of emergence for a fiction – we invent a hypothesis, and we give ourselves the real means to verify it.”

Pierre Huyghe’s worlds are compulsive. They impress you with the urgency to engage; they seduce you with the desire for deep duration and long time; they shift your sense of the present by connecting that unfathomable extension of time with the familiar.

The naked gallery wall recast as indefinite extension of space for hapless ants dodging agile spiders. Gloopular immersion in an amber landscape to capture the moment of insect conception. Adventures through polar ices to find an albino penguin. The search as a quest to chart the various viscosities that slow us down, speed us up, colour our perceptions and heighten our expectations.

Amelia Barikin and Victoria Lynn’s collaboration makes for an incredibly strong, disciplined exhibition space – a rare achievement for a co-curation. The former a Huyghe expert, the latter the museum’s director, they have worked together following animated conversation with the artist to create a set of interconnecting spaces that carry a complex vision across the world.

The exhibition’s great triumph is the juxtaposition of two impactful works in one cavernous space: ‘A Journey That Wasn’t’ (2005, Super 16mm and HD video to HD, 21:41) and ‘L’Expédition Scintillante, Act 2: Untitled (Light Box)’ (2002). The video piece tells an epic tale. Against tracts of monochromatic territory so vast as to dwarf its rare inhabitants, a journey is made to find a rare monochromatic bird. The journey requires monumental deliberation; venturing into Antarctic seas can be no whim. It’s a trajectory consciously marked by its every framework as the elements are charted, traversed, scaled.

We want to believe in this adventure – we want to be part of its journey, to feel its ice against our skin, its wind against our bodies. We want this world to envelop us and we want to find that penguin. Yet try as we might to immerse, Huyghe reminds us that what he offers is not that world but rather the conditions for that world. We are shown rock, ice, weather, movement, sound. Alternately, we are shown the orchestra performing this powerful composition, not on an icebreaker but in New York’s über-bourgeois epicentre, Central Park become icy one-night-only landscape. This image has been constructed for us. We are sitting in a gallery and not at all on an Antarctic expedition.

And then, the moment that that projection has run its course and the large space has darkened, something utterly and delightfully unexpected happens: a previously inert box casts off its shadowed plinth and lights up into the most happily billowing thing in the world. Coloured lights, dense fog, Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies combine to create a hearth that gathers us all in silence and joy, moving tentatively and then comfortably around the piece until it has become our whole world – only to be disrupted once again by ‘A Journey That Wasn’t’s loop begun anew, starting again with the powerfully ironic image of two figures struggling with a weather balloon against an almighty storm.

An image for our times, this. Huyghe consciously negotiates climate change across his work. His preoccupation with time spans of millions of years concentrates that negotiation onto works that occupy our present and then stay with us long afterwards.

The lightbox is no homage to James Turrell; it’s not intended to be abstract. The ants aren’t meant to conjure up Dalí or Buñuel. The 3D image is not meant to evoke the drive-in. And yet thankfully, playfully, they do. Bending my body into crouching forms to follow fast-moving ants, or putting on 3D glasses to peer into a crystalline landscape previously unimaginable, I am participating in the conditions that Huyghe prescribes: I am helping to make a world-historic fiction possible, while knowing all the while exactly where I am in this superbly crafted space.

The car creates the false sense of a self-contained world. To arrive at TarraWarra today I had come from Marysville along the densely winding Maroondah Hwy, whose 15km of treetop driving required very close focus and rapid reflexes. Endless verticals of trunk showed all-too-recent signs of fire recovery, indicating a sky so distant as to exist well beyond this wooded world, with now a shaft of light and now a deep black char. Pierre Huyghe creates worlds of space and worlds of time that occupy our present and challenge us to make our future into a thing of our own making. The journey that was.

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Pierre Huyghe
The 2015 TarraWarra International
Curated by Amelia Barikin and Victoria Lynn
At TarraWarra Museum of Art to 22 November 2015

All photographs by Esther Anatolitis

Time Out of Time, the exhibition’s symposium, was held on Saturday 24 October.
Here’s my Storify of the discussion.