PRINT March 1997


ONE BY ONE fifteen actors speak their lines, taking their cues from the marks on a clear piece of film stock. An identical sliver 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 Barbès, Billboard, Paris 1994 (Barbès 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 lncivils (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 Totò 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.

It is through this framework that one must view Light Conical Intersect, 1996, Huyghe’s recent projection of Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1975 documentary Conical Intersect, made during the Paris Biennale of the same year. At the time, Matta-Clark was given the run of two condemned seventeenth-century townhouses situated across from the yet-to-be-completed Centre Pompidou. Through the townhouses he cut a conical hole, allowing passersby a glimpse of the museum under construction—and Matta-Clark a chance to capture on film those curious enough to take a look. Huyghe’s projection of this footage on a new building erected where Matta-Clark’s houses once stood reanimated the issues first raised by the project in the ’70s: the clash of the old and the new—in this instance between the much-hated Quartier d’Horloge and the substantial portion of Les Halles it replaced. In Light Conical Intersect, Huyghe’s concerns—the construction site as metaphor for the artwork, the simultaneous documentation and construction of events, and the juxtaposition of two socio-artistic periods—converge.

Huyghe has also developed a number of interactive projects that unfold over the course of days or months. Echoing Situationist efforts, they generate what Felix Guattari called “molecular revolutions” by emphasizing intersubjective relations. Recently, he invited artists Philippe Parreno, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick, and Maurizio Cattelan—whose conceptual and performative investigations share certain affinities—to imagine what it would be like to construct and refurbish an unfinished house of which he had made a computer-generated model. In a suburb of Lyon, Villeurbanne, he transformed the auditorium of the Nouveau Musée into a television station, complete with sound-stage, editing tables, and broadcasting equipment, in hopes of infiltrating local airwaves. This project, Mobil TV, 1995, depended on the participation of the city’s inhabitants; Huyghe even went so far as to put up flyers announcing an audition for the popular Parisian television program, Dance Machine, filming contestants without ever revealing the whole to have been a ruse.

Such projects cannot be separated from Huyghe’s exhibitions, imageless films, cinematic remakes, or construction-site billboards: all are geared toward producing what Huyghe calls “connective images”—images that attempt not to represent the world, but to place us at once within and outside the processes by which we visualize and construct our realities.

Olivier Zahm is coeditor of Purple Prose and a frequent contributor to Artforum.

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.