Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (Human Mask), 2014
It’s that time again. The year turns and I conclude it might be time I got back to writing about art a bit. This year I plan to be better at keeping it up but I’ll aim for regular(ish) but not especially frequent posts, perhaps two or three a week but with no long gaps. Maybe. And, probably inevitably, I’ll start things off by thinking back at the work I’ve seen over the past year and withering on about the works that have stayed with me. As usual, I’ve managed to miss a lot of shows I really wanted to see and some of the shows I did see were forgotten pretty much as soon as I’d left the space. So what managed to work its way into my head and stay put? The first thing that comes to mind is Untitled (Human Mask), a film work by Pierre Huyghe which I saw at Hauser and Wirth in October in Huyghe’s exhibition IN. BORDER. DEEP. Huyghe is an artist whose work I know rather less well than I should given that I think I’ve liked pretty much everything I’ve seen by him and writing about this work reminds me that I would love to get to know his work rather better.
Even before we understand what we’re watching, it’s clear that Human Mask takes place in a strange, dystopian space. Our journey starts outside, travelling through a broken world of uprooted buildings, abandoned by those who once called them home. Moving inside, we find ourselves in the dingy interior of what was once a restaurant where a child-sized waitress in a blue dress still busies herself. The camera presents us with a close-up of an impassive human face but, quite apart from the waitress’s presence in an otherwise abandoned space, something is amiss. We gradually come to understand that the creature behind the flawless mask isn’t a child but a macaque monkey.
The landscape of the film is somewhere near Fukushima in Japan in the broken world created by the tsunami of 2011; the monkey, brought to this strange and scary space by Huyghe, once worked in a restaurant in Tokyo. The confusion Huyghe creates by the bringing together of these two very odd realities creates a fascinating new (un)reality which is hard to process but impossible to look away from. I was transfixed for the 19 minutes of the film (and then some: I don’t think I watched it through twice but it was close) and both the feeling of the film and key images have remained firmly lodged in my mind.
There were other works in the exhibition, and I saw another work by Huyghe later in November in the Netherlands, but it is the haunting Human Mask that now immediately comes to mind when I think of Huyghe.