Fotograf Magazine

Pierre Huyghe

Close Encounters

Providing a basic description of Pierre Huyghe’s 2010 work Zoodrama is simple: a living ocean ecosystem in a glass aquarium. However, this seemingly straightforward marine animal spectacle makes present the tension between the human and the non-human, following up on the artist’s favorite themes.

Pierre Huyghe’s work could be described as the purposeful creation of mean-ing-making situations. To this end, he makes changes to existing films. On other occasions, he builds his own realities, making use of buildings, plants, animals, and—last but not least—the spectators. He has a long-standing interest in the borders between fiction and reality, between make believe and the real, between life and an imitation of life. The aquarium was a method of exploring precisely these topics.

According to Huyghe, aquariums are somewhat like museums: they are places in which people observe elements selected from the world around them. Several dozen liters of water between the glass panels emulate a natural envi-ronment, and yet this is an artificial structure. In order for the chosen organisms to survive, these biosphere reproductions need balanced levels of temperature, salinity, and oxygenation. The principle behind Huyghe’s artistic fish-keeping is simple: he created the contents of several ocean aquariums and then let their individual elements influence each other. He placed a carnivorous octopus in the midst of a shoal of fish—fish that were too small for the predator to catch them. He filled one aquarium with stones that are lighter than water. Huyghe also presented his underwater dramas to groups of spectators. The human representation of the aquariums’ contents and a reflection of this representation is at the core of his works. Perhaps the most widely reproduced of these is the aquarium in which Huyghe let a hermit crab make his home inside Brâncuși’s 1910 sculpture, Sleeping Muse. In an ambivalent symbiosis of the human and the animal, the crab and the girl’s face travel through a human reproduction of the sea. They embody the encounter of two species, not dissimilar from clumsy attempts at communication with extraterrestrial life.

Zoodrama inaugurates an artistically rich line in Huyghe’s work. He picked it up with an untitled installation at Documenta 13 which brought together psychoactive plants, sculptures, bees, and a dog; his 2014 film Human Mask; or another extensive installation, After Alife Ahead from the 2017 Skulptur Projekte Münster, which presented a kind of giant aquarium on dry land. In all these works, Pierre Huyghe operates in the area between the natural sciences and artistic ritual.

Tomáš Pospiszyl


The French artist PIERRE HUYGHE (1962) is considered one of the most prominent contemporary artists. He most commonly employs spacial installations and film as his media of expression. Since the 1990s, during which he was one of the creators of the so-called post-production method, he has shifted in the recent decades towards composing living and ambiguous environments that often thematise the relationship between man and nature.

TOMÁŠ POSPISZYL Tomáš Pospiszyl is an art historian, critic, and curator. His work includes updating artistic approaches of the second half of the 20th century, the relationship between the western and eastern canons, and the overlap between fine art and visual culture.