Openings: Pierre Huyghe

By Zahm, Olivier | Artforum International, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Openings: Pierre Huyghe


Zahm, Olivier, Artforum International


One by one fifteen actors speak their lines, taking their cues from the marks on a clear piece of film stock. An identical silver of film runs beneath Dubbing, 1996, a video projection of this event. It's the only indication (besides the title) that the enigmatic scene we're watching is the dubbing of a film; the images themselves remain as invisible as the narrative does partial. In film-based projects, real-time "remakes," and site-specific billboards, Pierre Huyghe adopts both the procedures of commercial filmmaking (casting calls, voice-overs) and avant-garde strategies (the use of nonprofessional actors, the incorporation of process into the narrative) to create artworks that unfold in real time and space. In Soundtrack Movie, 1996, English subtitles for Huyghe's original script appear on a screen, accompanied by a soundtrack with no dialogue, while a microphone pointed toward the audience offers everyone a chance to give the characters voice.

Huyghe's work flips back and forth between "real life" and celluloid visions, between the everyday and the imagined, whether the pieces announce themselves as artworks or mimic the conventions of advertising. In works like Chantier Barbes, Billboard, Paris 1994 (Barbes site, 1994), Huyghe erected billboards picturing workers at the construction sites beneath them, thus superimposing two realities: the actual (the construction in progress) and the recorded (the blown-up image). Was the sign illustrating the activities at the building site? Or were the construction workers assuming roles suggested by the billboard? Huyghe's art inhabits this vertiginous place between what is and what might be, continually emphasizing the impossibility of separating lived experience from our representations of it.

Similarly, in redoing old movies, Huyghe works to reactivate a given script so that different temporalities and narratives overlap. In Les Incivils (The uncivilized, 1995), a partial remake of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Uccellacci e Uccellini (The hawks and the sparrows, 1966), Huyghe reshot key scenes from Toto and Ninetto's journey down a highway under construction just outside Rome. The new location: a nearby road also under repair at the time of Huyghe's shooting. By interspersing these refilmed sequences (in which the two characters encounter figures from various walks of life) with footage documenting curious onlookers asked to comment on the scenes reenacted during his filming, Huyghe achieves an odd intersection of art and life. Effecting a seamless passage from one to the other, he turns what Pasolini dubbed "cinema with a certain realism" on its head: reality no longer seeps into film, rather the filmic image has become a generative element of reality. …

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