Live Art: Q+A With Pierre Huyghe


A new show of fours works by Pierre Huyghe at Esther Schipper gallery in Berlin [through Oct. 22] continues the artist’s inquiry into the way we relate inside and outside of the exhibition context. Arriving in the gallery space, a male door attendant announces loudly the visitor’s name and surname (titled Name Announcer). The rooms look empty at first sight, but in reality live insects and contagions abound. A gallery attendant has the flu (Influenced). On the walls and floor, some 10,000 ants circulate freely (Umwelt), creating lines that circulate from nest to nest in small holes in the walls. Fifty live spiders move towards the corners of the ceiling, captured by CCTV security cameras (C. C. Spider).


With this new show the French artist continues his reflection on the roles we assume as viewers and participants.Huyghe tells A.i.A and what we can learn from ants.

CHIARA ZAMPETTI  How important is the co-existence and interaction of the four works in the show?

PIERRE HUYGHE  I like the idea that things can cohabitate, but maintain their heterogeneity. They can be separated or reorganized. How do they relate or not relate? I am interested in this question, and in questioning the conditions of encounter.

ZAMPETTI  How do you anticipate viewers will react when their name is called? How does that change the viewing?

HUYGHE  When someone says your name you become an individual. You have been announced to something. Your name is almost an object in space, and you are more conscious of yourself. The other people who are in the room and arrived before you know you are there. You are introduced to them. You can also have the feeling that you are on stage; you don’t become an actor, but you are more conscious of your presence within that space. In that space there are other people, and this is important for me. When you are announced you are exposed-and not so much in an interactive way. You are not requested to do something. You are asked your name, and that is all. You don’t need to play or behave.

ZAMPETTI  Are the ants metaphorical? Does the context of the gallery elevate them?

HUYGHE  The ants are just ants. There are two small holes where they nest, and from there they just cross the room. They are present in the space, you can see some lines and there is a sort of trajectory. When you come into the gallery, you assume your normal trajectory. Then you notice the insects, and you take another. Then you see the spiders. There is a co-habitation, a co-existence, but there is not much relating. I am trying not to define the relations in between these live entities.

ZAMPETTI  Would you ascribe the ants or spiders any roles or characteristics?

HUYGHE  No, they are themselves, none of them are playing roles. There is no act to be performed. Christoph, who has the flu, is someone who works in this gallery. He is doing what he usually does when there is an opening: he speaks to people, introduces himself, and so on. He is in the role of his work, not in another role. So no one is playing; there are rules, but no script. There is just a co-habitation of these lives and situation.

ZAMPETTI  Planting the flu would seem to introduce a sense of danger into your installation, or at least inconvenience and paranoia. You offer these as a gambit.

HUYGHE  I like the fact there is something playful, but there is also something very dry, because there is nearly nothing and there is tension.

It is playful because your attention shifts gear in a certain way. You think the space is empty, but in reality it is crowded with creatures, humans included, and there is the presence of the spiders and ants, and maybe you want to start to play. You can walk on the ants and kill them, but ultimately you don’t want to do that, so you start to walk or move in response to them and the other presences in the space. You can look at the ceiling, look at the floor and eventually you can look at the other people.

ZAMPETTI  How do you intend for the human visitor to interact with these features?

HUYGHE Louis Althusser in Materialism of the Encounter speaks about the idea of the rain that falls in parallel lines, but then eventually one drop deviates and encounters another drop and creates a world. I am interested in this question of deviation and in this moment of encounter and looking at when that moment of deviation arrives and creates a world, an idea, an emotion, a feeling.

ZAMPETTI  You are an advisor for the forthcoming Documenta 13. What role have you played thus far?

HUYGHE  It’s very interesting work for me, because it makes me ask myself new questions about the notion of an exhibition. What is an exhibition—is it maybe educational?—and so on. At the moment I am discussing ideas with the artistic director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. I express my ideas and I ask questions. They can be political and philosophical questions but also technical and practical, such as finding the spaces for the artists and other aspects you have to deal with when organizing an exhibition.