People in museums move like assholes.
This dynamic may be little more than a distant memory for those privy to the luxury of sparsely-populated art spaces: via opening receptions, press previews, off-hours viewings organized by friends of friends, or just the good fortune of being free most Monday mornings.
Unfortunately, when confronted with the work of an artist who seeks to interrogate, interrupt, obfuscate, or otherwise f*ck The Space of the Museum, privileged classes of museum-goers may be forced to lean on abstractions about energy and narrative and resolution without ever observing the energies and narratives created by the actual museum-going public interacting with the work.
Pierre Huyghe, Light Conical Intersect, Event, Paris, 1996, Ektachrome, impression numérique ou offset; Collection Centre Pompidou, © Philippe Migeat - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI (diffusion RMN), © Adagp, Paris.
Let me break it down. In a very crowded museum, people are generally caught between a quiet desire to stare at length at any given object, to contemplate what they paid good money to look at, with or without the aid of an audio guide (available for your convenience at both the north entrance and subject to a deposit in the form of personal ID) and a subtle mandate to move things along, to flow through the series of enjoined rooms the way that you were meant to flow, at a pace suitable to the scores of other patrons queued up to see the show, jostling one another to take pictures of the object. The human traffic is like a slow-moving river of mud, with bits getting stuck here and there along the banks, but the river and everything in it eventually reaches its end, emptying inevitably into the gift shop pool.
There is flow here, but none of it is prescribed. The limits are vague. Everything butts up against you and against one another. Boundaries are not defined by ropes and docents, just sort of gestured at by piles of dust, by how comfortable you are around bees, by some shared faith in the inherent value of what we’re being told is art, by the ineffable magic that title confers on things and on sounds and maybe even on spiders.
Pierre Huyghe, «Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt)», 2012, Collection Ishikawa, Okayama, Japon; © Adagp, Paris 2013.
If artists can appropriate organic labor to create work, and still be the sole author of said work, Huyghe takes it a step further by situating organic labor itself as work, removing himself completely from its afterlife, leaving it and us to our own devices. An emaciated dog with a pink leg scampers idly by, and we gasp as if it were The White Stag. The dog, titled Human, 2011, makes a few rounds, stares at us, bewildered, as we stare at it, then curls up on a faux fur rug in the corner of the gallery. A little girl, acting on an impulse that in any other public space would be deemed perfectly natural, rushes forward to pet the creature before being yanked back and smacked by an embarrassed parent. A histrionic pop song swells over a thin partition. A group of people rush over, suddenly interested in the video playing on the other side (The Host and The Cloud, 2010) but the song fades just as they arrive. They file back out, disappointed. Another child, apprehending that the seemingly random beeping patterns of light on the ceiling (Atari Light, 1999) is actually a game, picks up the controller on one side of the room. The other controller lies on the other side of the room, unoccupied. Grown ass adults shuffle pass it very slowly with their arms crossed, bored by the monotony of the light show but declining to remedy the situation by playing the game (it’s pong, by the way). I pick up the other control and let her win a few times (swear it was on purpose), before her father wrests the control and shoos her away. We play a protracted game, after which he drops the control and walks away. I think he was flirting with me, but it’s hard to tell. There’s a lot going on here. And if it wasn’t in a museum, where external forces of propriety butt up against a roiling impetus to match the energy of noise and games and things that are alive, there might be no undercurrent of anxiety, but neither would there be art.
(Image on top: Pierre Huyghe, This is not a time for dreaming, 2004, Installation audiovisuelle 1 vidéoprojecteur, 2 haut-parleurs, 1 bande vidéo D5 NTSC, 16/9, 24', couleur son stéréo surrounding, 1 affiche, 1 livret, dimensions de la salle : 1100 x 650 cm projection de 366 x 224ht; Collection Centre Pompidou, © Service de la documentation photographique du MNAM - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI (diffusion RMN), © Adagp, Paris.)