Centre Pompidou Paris

F-75004 Paris

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The Centre Pompidou is devoting a retrospective exhibition of the work of Pierre Huyghe: a major figure in the contemporary scene in France and on the international stage, presenting some fifty projects that provide an overview of the work he has been developing for over twenty years.

Since the Nineties, Pierre Huyghe, a major figure in the French and international art scene, has contributed to the redefinition of the status of the art work and the exhibition format, occasionally overlapping the two, such as by giving them the form of a diary (Anna Sanders, L'histoire d'un sentiment, 1997), an expedition to Antarctica (A Journey that Wasn't , 2005) or a yearly calendar in the shape of a circular garden (La Saison des fêtes, 2010). The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the living and organic dimension of his propositions, which envisage the space as a world in itself, unplanned, living according to its own rhythms. In 1995, the artist founded L'Association des temps libérés (Association of Freed Time), where the aim was to "develop unproductive time, for a reflection on free time, and to cultivate a society without work". He questions our relationship with time and collective memory, and reinvents new methods of celebration, such as the One Year Celebration project in 2006, which peppers the calendar with proposals for new holidays or celebrations contributed by various artists, such as a “holiday of art” or a commemoration of silence. While presenting some of his most iconic works, such as Blanche Neige Lucie, No Ghost Just a Shell, Atari Light and Streamside Day, this exhibition explores the aesthetic processes and issues at work in the assertion of his style in the late Eighties, after he graduated from the Paris École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, and which are still very much present in his two latest pieces, The Host and the Cloud and Untilled. "What interests me is constructing situations that take place in reality." From his 1996 project Extended Holidays, where Pierre Huyghe closed a vacant exhibition space to take his potential visitors on extended holidays, to the experimental The Host and the Cloud, which took place in three stages during Halloween, Saint Valentine's Day and Labour Day in 2010-2011 at the disused Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, the exhibition is consolidated as a place where presence and vitality are intensified. Pierre Huyghe turns visitors to the exhibition into witnesses as soon as they enter the Centre Pompidou's Galerie Sud. "I'm interested in the vital aspect of things, in the way an idea, an artefact or a language can flow into contingent, biological, mineral and physical reality. It's not a matter of showing something to someone so much as showing someone to something," says the artist. In an approach that has little of the theatrical, but which takes over forms and states of presence and is activated by the artist for the exhibition period, the show becomes a heterotopic space where art comes very close to life. Here the work constitutes the partial registration of a situation that moves beyond it, flowing into reality.

"I focus on something that is not played, but which exists in itself. I seek not to identify the relationship between subjects, but to invent conditions that lead to permeability, flow, and the indeterminate. What I'm interested in is intensifying the presence of what is, to find its own particular presentation, its own appearance and its own life, rather than subjecting it to pre-established models. The exhibition constantly changes, and does not depend on us," says the artist. Like Untilled, a crater lying fallow, a womb of evolving plastic forms that grew from the compost heap of Karlsaue Park in Kassel in 2012, the Centre Pompidou exhibition takes root in the picture rails and remains of previous exhibitions, notably that of Mike Kelley, the one immediately before. It becomes part of it, in the way the hermit crab inhabits the head of Brancusi's La Muse endormie in the Surrealist aquarium Zoodram 4. "I try to work the space like an organism: it is not so much the objects, the elements, but instead the flow, the interplay arising between the elements " says the artist. He brings to light relationships that exist between works sometimes a decade apart, like the teenagers wearing animal heads in the Toison d'or in a park in Dijon, moving around randomly outside the legend of the Golden Fleece, who are compared with the protagonists of the costumed procession of Streamside Day, or with Human, the dog with the pink leg.

In a completely new architectural approach within the Galerie Sud, the extension of the exhibition space opens towards the outside as an outgrowth where some of the artist's organic and climatic works will exist. The exhibition thus becomes a stage in this singular body of work, and a starting point for moving towards the place of Pierre Huyghe's concerns and obsessions: one based on the idea of constructing a self-generating world that varies in time and space, indifferent to our presence.

UNTILLED, 2011-2012, DOCUMENTA 13 In the midst of the compost heap of Karlsaue Park in Kassel, in an area detached from all cultural or museum surroundings, not intended to be looked at, are placed elements that come from different moments in history, and are usually found in parks: a bench, a statue, a dog, a human. Certain objects presented previously at Documenta can be seen: one of Joseph Beuys' uprooted oaks, the pink bench of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, a sculpture from the Thirties. This place where dead things are thrown is also the place of their transformation. Time gradually generates porosity between the forms, between the work of art, the plants and the animal kingdom. The sculpted silhouette of a reclining woman emerges from the mud and the clumps of psychotropic plants surrounding her. Her head is covered with a swarm of bees. A white dog with a pink leg, straight out of a fantastical bestiary, inhabits this microcosm that engenders decomposition, germination and hybridisation.

STREAMSIDE DAY, 2003 This work participates in the construction of time, re-qualified by the artist. It is a collective event during which Pierre Huyghe proposes inventing a celebration for the birth of a community at Streamside Knolls, neighbouring a forest in the Hudson Valley, north of New York. He invites the inhabitants to take part in a parade in this development under construction, which influences the surrounding nature. By means of this celebration, the artist introduces vitality into this emergent village. He sows the seeds of a shared memory. "The repetition of this pagan festival will perhaps turn it into a custom that can be celebrated or transformed."

L’EXPÉDITION SCINTILLANTE, A MUSICAL, 2002 This work in three acts announces an upcoming voyage - an expedition to the Antarctic. A boat sculpted in the ice melts in the exhibition space, which undergoes the climatic variations - snow, rain and fog - noted in the log book of the protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). A light box plays a psychedelic light show to music by Erik Satie. On a black skating rink, a female dancer delineates abstract forms.

THE HOST AND THE CLOUD, 2010 This film took form through a series of live experiments over three days at the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires (ATP). At that time closed to the public, this museum played host to a series of situations initiated by Pierre Huyghe, which he then left to develop naturally. Fifteen actors moved around in the disused museum and reacted spontaneously to various stimuli (sleeping pills, hypnosis sessions, alcohol, etc.) witnessed by fifty other people. As the artist explained, "In this intense experience, sometimes things were performed, sometimes they were beyond anyone's control, and chaotic for the actors and myself alike. [...] It was first and foremost an exorcism of something that flows into the real, without it being addressed to us."

ZOODRAM 4 (AFTER LA MUSE ENDORMIE BY BRANCUSI) 2011 A surreal mineral seascape, unusual rocks floating on the surface of the water, red telluric rocks, a muse whose slumber gives rise to the vision of a hermit crab inhabiting the head of La Muse Endormie, the zoodrams are worlds in themselves, marine ecosystems inhabited by crabs, sea spiders and invertebrates, selected based on their behaviour and their appearance.

By Emma Lavigne, curator at the Musée National d'Art Moderne and curator of the exhibition and Florencia Chernajovsky, research manager

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Pierre Huyghe

Emma Lavigne