- Tate Modern
What is the artist's role in society today? To take a stance anywhere outside of current sociological concerns and make an objective commentary from the insular, safe haven of the contemporary art world is ostensibly no longer enough. Artistic practice it seems is becoming less concerned with the search for idealism in the objects it manufactures and more interested in implicating and attempting to solve the problems that modern life presents us with.
If we are to adopt a judicial position on the premise of a ‘Relational Aesthetic' as put forth by Nicolas Bourriaud, to gauge the merit of our artworks and artists, are we not now judging art by means of its virtue and contribution to society? If a passive appreciation is not to be deemed impact enough then Pierre Huyghe is certainly flying the flag for an art-form, dismissive of material form, where ‘inter-human relations' takes precedence.
If we are to assume that Huyghe's work is compliant to a relatively new convention in the art world, we should certainly identify the ways in which it might subvert any trends or normalities. An exhibition is usually something that is largely resolved; in a state of completion and existing within a specific locality. Celebration Park begins to question our understanding of the term ‘exhibition' and presents an expansion of such an idea both spatially and conceptually as we realise that what is on display is perhaps a series of documentations of previous ‘exhibitions' that take their place externally to the realm of the white cube of contemporary conventions.
On entering the space this stratagem of disrupted spatiality is made screamingly evident when we are confronted by two gigantic white doors that spin and twirl like a dancing couple, limited only by the tracking that they are fixed to. The professed intention of this clearly ludicrously expensive spectacle was to restructure the sense of space in the gallery and blur the boundaries between the interior and exterior. What we are left with however, although visually captivating, is a work not particularly conceptually encapsulating.
Mounted to the walls that house the kinetic monstrosity that is Gates are another rather contentious invention of Huyghe's known as his Disclaimers. These white neon signs make seemingly blatant statements such as; I do not own Modern Times, I do not own 4'33" and I do not own Snow White. Without prior knowledge one might not discern that aside from the obvious connotations of ownership evoked by each sign, all are either self-reflexive and refer to previous Pierre Huyghe works or accredit other people's work such as John Cage's 4'33" of silence or Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times, disclaiming rights to actual ownership, thus enabling an extension of the narrative of that which they acknowledge. What initially appear to be conspicuous assertions, for me remain vacuous; too obscure to make anything more than tenuous links with anything other than that which is immediately recognisable.
Huyghe, best known for his video work, for me shines in this discipline in the three works screened in independent rooms of the exhibition. Each work plays with the tentative separation between the real and the fictitious, Huyghe has exclaimed:
‘I am not interested in capturing or documenting the reality as a given, nor in building a fiction. I'm interested in the re-scripting or re-defining; re-inventing or inventing the reality and then and only then making a document of it.' Pierre Huyghe
A journey that wasn't depicts Huyghe's journey to Antarctica in the search of an albino penguin that may or may not have ever existed. Provoking questions about what we know to be concrete about the wider world and what remains mere supposition. Streamside Day captures an orchestrated event that marks the birth of the town of Streamside Knolls, a small suburban utopia situated in New York State. The occasion begins with the planting of a tree, then proceeds with a costume parade and ends with a speech from the mayor and a live performance of songs created especially for the celebration. What we witness is a falsification of otherwise naturalistic social events.
To me Streamside day is a truly fascinating parodic comment that evokes the notion of the topological; something is allegorically represented or interpreted yet its paradigmatic form or origin remains invariant. What we experience, true of much of Huyghe's work is not a re-creation of an event or happening, nor a rekindled experience, it is an equivalence, something that is a part of culture yet eludes representation by it. Within the appropriation, (or you could say celebration), of an aspect of society that exists both as this actualised aspect and a representation of it, Huyghe provides a refreshing critique of our sociological climate, unpicking our values and ideals in such a way that resists the merely anthropological that its provisional external appearance might be seen to convey.
Aaron Juneau is a student studying Fine Art at Nottingham Trent School of Art and Design