Encountering the non-human in a liminal space. Pierre Huyghe at Punta della Dogana in Venice

Created by Pierre Huyghe in collaboration with curator Anne Stenne, the exhibition transforms Punta della Dogana into a land of constant evolution, populated by human and non-human creatures.

Since its official systematization in 1993 – which occurred alongside the famous exhibition Post Human curated by Jeffrey Deitch, featuring artists who were pushing the limits of their own perishable human bodies, in hybrid encounters with cyborgs – the non-human rhetoric has become increasingly dominant, saturating the contemporary art discourse. We see it more and more often in blockbuster exhibitions, as well as in Biennials and art fairs.
This enthusiasm is aided, on the one hand, by the often uncritical narrative that the art world is carrying forward from the appearance of Artificial Intelligence into mainstream creative practices; on the other hand, by the increasing attention of the public and intellectuals towards the theme of the climate crisis, which rightfully forces us to rethink the human position on a planet that we thought we owned, and that now seems to reject us.

In this context, turning towards a post-anthropocentric perspective seems the only possible way to embrace our present and future. Yet, since this discourse is gaining more and more attention in the art field, it is now more important than ever to critically discern which are the artists who repeat conceptual patterns or “slogans” that have worked in the moment, and which are the ones who continue to carry out an authentic research that is attentive to the needs of our present times. Devotedly working in this field in the last decades, French artist Pierre Huyghe is one of them.

Staged at the Punta della Dogana in Venice and conceived together with curator Anne Stenne, Pierre Huyghe. Liminal welcomes its visitors in a dark, mysterious and alien-like environment. Through the darkness, the beholder finds their own path in a space that is transformed by the artist into a land of constant evolution, populated by human and non-human creatures. Subjected to this process of hybridization – which is the transit through the show itself – the observer comes into contact with different and unknown life-forms. First of all, the monumental video-installation Liminal (2024), a gigantic real-time simulation that shows a female human body without her face: immersed in a sort of lunar landscape, the woman is an empty container that receives invisible information in real time through sensors set in the physical environment.

Pierre Huyghe, Liminal (temporary title), 2024 - ongoing Courtesy of the artist; Anna Lena Films, Paris © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023

The first and second half of the exhibition path, articulated on two floors, is punctuated by a self-generated film, edited in real time by Artificial Intelligence. In Camata (2024), we are witnessing an ancestral and futuristic rite. Staged in the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is the oldest and driest desert on Earth, and the place where astronomers have chosen to study and test exoplanets (the planets that exist beyond our solar system), some machines seem to perform a ritual on a human skeleton. Thanks to AI, the sequence is a self-presentation that changes endlessly, without beginning and without an end. The cuts are triggered by the sensors located in the exhibition space that generate continuous changes in the editing. We, as beholders, are also involved in the ritual, which takes place in real time: the passage of a human body (ours) which influences an incorporeal entity (and vice versa). Even if the functioning of this ritual is obscure to our reasoning, we can’t avoid being a part of it – and this is the perfect metaphor for human and non-human interactions.

Pierre Huyghe, Camata, 2024, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Esther Schipper, and TARO NASU © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023

All the galleries on the upper floor are populated by performers who wander around in the darkness. Again, their faces disappear, covered by helmets that produce an AI-generated voice in real time. These entities speak an unknown and self-generated language; when we come into contact with them, we have an immediate reaction of anxiety and repulsion: we recognize that entity as something different from us, yet we cannot decode it. And this puts us on the alert: they’re not human, but they’re something we’ve never seen before. Without a familiar face, and without a familiar language, what are they? After a while, we realize that we are all part of the same experience, and the repulsion is overcome by living together: you are not learning to coexist with other life-forms, you are acknowledging them through your own physical and cognitive experience. And there is no more powerful form of connection.

 

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Laura Cocciolillo
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