Huyghe Godfrey

38 Pierre Huyghe. Les Grands Ensembles, 2001. Vistavision transferred onto digital hard disc, 7 min. 51 sec. looped. Music by Pan Sonic and Cédric Pigot. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris.

Transcript of Huyghe Godfrey

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Pierre Huyghe. Les GrandsEnsembles, 2001. Vistavisiontransferred onto digital hard disc, 7 min. 51 sec. looped. Music byPan Sonic and Cédric Pigot.Courtesy of Marian GoodmanGallery, New York/Paris.

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Grey Room 32, Summer 2008, pp. 38–61. © 2008 Grey Room, Inc. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology 39

Pierre Huyghe’s Double SpectacleMARK GODFREY

1. Le Château de Turing In 2001, somewhat belatedly, I encountered the work of Pierre Huyghe for the firsttime. This took place at the Venice Biennale, where Huyghe was representing France.The pavilion was divided into three. In the left section was a large projection of hisfilm Les grands ensembles; to the right, another viewing room in which an elaborateseating and lighting construction was situated across from a smaller projection, theanimation One Million Kingdoms. In the center, the space seemed empty and thewalls bare, but the gridded ceiling was in fact a giant electronic screen entitled AtariLight on which one could play Pong using two hanging handheld controls. Huygheprogrammed the entire space so that, rather than both projections running simulta-neously, as one stopped the other would begin. Viewers had to leave each room andgo outside before entering the next, but glass walls filled with liquid crystals betweenthe three sections would change from transparent to opaque, signaling that the dramahad moved to another section of the pavilion.

I remember finding Le Château de Turing (as Huyghe named the pavilion) mesmerizing. I was seduced by the architectural elegance of the installation, the useof changing doors, the elaborate temporal choreography, and the way that Huyghemanaged to move his audience around the space without forceful manipulation. Thethree individual works were equally impressive, each producing different affects.One Million Kingdoms showed the figure of Annlee walking through a lunar land-scape that rose and fell in response to the changing tones of a recording that usedsamples of Neil Armstrong’s voice. I knew nothing about the rest of the Annlee project at this point, and even though the figure was a simply rendered digitalhomunculus, there was nonetheless something rather touching about seeing this small girl alone on the distant moon.1 Somehow I could not resist feeling some pity for the large-eyed lonely character. The mood switched as I entered themiddle space, which was more playful. Under Atari Light, for a brief time I wastransported back to the early 1980s and to days at friends’ houses playing the

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first computer games. With some nostalgia and fond amusement, I tried to controlmy bar “racquet” so as to bounce my pixel “ball” across to the other side of the room.

The timbre shifted again as I entered the space showing Les grands ensembles.The projection revealed two high-rise apartment blocks behind swirling mist. Noresidents could be seen in the windows, but from time to time the windows illumi-nated, first in one building, then in the other, as if from the glow of TVs switchingon and off. Soon lights were flashing all over the grids of the blocks’ facades, so thatit seemed that the two groups of residents were communicating. Despite the fact thatthe blocks were obviously models and that the lights were patently not emitted byactual TVs, the work prompted me to conjure a kind of fantasy. What would it belike, I wondered, if all the residents of two high rise buildings agreed to stage a lightshow for no reason other than the event itself? Such an activity would require considerable cooperation between inhabitants whose architectural environment didlittle to foster community spirit. This spectacle would also fly in the face of all theconventions of TV entertainment. Usually, residents would sit, separated in theirliving rooms, gazing at the faces of celebrity actors; here, I imagined, TV itself wasbeing détourned. Disregarding the banal content of its programs, each viewerbecame active, using his or her TV as a tool to produce the light show. Les grandsensembles seemed to suggest a spirit of hope in adversity—the utopian idea that atemporary community might form in the least likely of places and that a beautifuland dramatic event could be created for no financial motive. The work brimmedwith the sense of possibility and promise.

In the months that followed the biennale, after the publication of reviews and ofHuyghe’s own texts in the catalogue, I learned that my impression of Le Château deTuring was somewhat at odds with the critical response to the installation and withHuyghe’s comments. While I had felt sympathy for the manga figure, Huyghe (and

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his collaborator, Philippe Parreno) discouraged critics from finding Annlee “romantic”and indeed indicated that the aim of the project was precisely to appropriate a signthat, having been emptied, could be filled by different artists in different ways.2 NoGhost Just a Shell was less an exercise in provoking absurd affective responses thana complex reflection on conditions of ownership, copyright, collaboration, andmeaning. For Benjamin Buchloh, meanwhile, Atari Light was not significantbecause it introduced an element of pleasure and nostalgia into the installation.3

Instead, he indicated, Huyghe was concerned with showing how the promises ofutopian architecture had been perverted by industries that offered entertainmentwhile exercising control. The grid on which “Pong” was played was the kind thatonce might have formed part of a modernist architectural structure but that nowspanned over viewers’ heads as if imprisoning them. As an interactive work, AtariLight purported to liberate its audience but in fact indicated the extent to whichinteractivity is a kind of ruse. The emancipated spectator is merely the duped sub-ject of entertainment industries. As for Les grands ensembles, this, I learned, was awork about the decrepitude of cheap housing in late 1970s France. Rather than a vision of utopian cooperation, for most it suggested a desolate world where allhuman activity has been banished. The randomly flashing lights indicated the tri-umph of technology over community: residents become irrelevant as the buildingscommunicate by themselves.4

Le Château de Turing seems to have generated two conflicting responses. On theone hand, my response: attracted to the work’s spectacular appearance, I was pro-voked by its fictional scenarios to realms of imaginative fantasy. I was seduced byvirtual images, prepared to indulge in sentimental responses and to be amused bythe installation’s playful aspects. In seeming contrast, other viewers appreciated themore critical, analytic dimensions of the work. But how much sense does such apolarized account of Huyghe’s audience make? Surely Huyghe’s success lies in theway that both responses are appropriate: the Annlee films at once invite and deflectan absurd romantic attraction; Atari Light is both an amusing nostalgic installationand a reflection on societies of control; Les grands ensembles provokes the imagi-nation of utopian communities and responds to the disintegration of utopianism.My sentimental first reactions were neither so stable nor so overpowering that I wasovercome by Huyghe’s work—I was able to recognize its criticality and pessimismat the same time that I responded more sentimentally and imaginatively, and perhapsother critics were equally moved despite the fact that they did not describe affect intheir accounts.

Pierre Huyghe. Atari Light, 1999.Computer game program, interface, joysticks, halogenlamps. Exhibition view, Châteaude Turing, French Pavillion,Venice, 2001. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris. Photo: Laurent Lecat.

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2. “The Spectacularization of Contemporary Art”Benjamin Buchloh’s review of Huyghe’s pavilion opened with a complaint about theother works that he saw that summer in Venice and particularly about the predom-inance of digital video projections:

Exhibition value has been replaced by spectacle value, a condition in whichmedia control in everyday life is mimetically internalized and aggressivelyextended into those visual practices that had previously been defined as eitherexempt from or oppositional to mass-cultural regimes, and that now relapseinto the most intense solicitation of mythical experience.

With Bill Viola’s work in mind, he continued: “Paradoxically, the more noisily thiselectronic apparatus voices its totalizing claims, the more it expectorates its retar-daire humanist, if not outright mythical or religious, themes and messages.”5

Buchloh’s perception of this situation chimes with Hal Foster’s notion of the “spec-tacularization of contemporary art.”6 While (in the above passage) Buchloh concen-trates on contemporary artists’ uncritical deployment of new projection devices,their capitulation to the technological sublime, Foster has looked at the architecturaland historical context of spectacular contemporary art. Since the 1990s, iconic muse-ums such as the Bilbao Guggenheim have been built to attract tourism to formerlydepressed cities, becoming “gigantic space event[s]” that overwhelm the art theyhouse. Following from this situation, as James Meyer has argued, “The big rock[Foster’s term for the spectacular museum] must in turn be filled with works of ade-quate size, spectacular works, works, in short, that can deliver an audience: wall-size video/film projections, oversize photographs, a sculpture that overwhelms.”7

Foster has also looked back to the divided legacy of minimalism. For some artistsand critics, minimalism mattered because it allowed viewers to appreciate theirphysical position before the work, and (as a consequence) their and the works’ rela-tion to the architectural container. As a result, minimalism led artists to explore thematerial, institutional, historical, and political determinants of art production moreand more explicitly (this line goes roughly from Carl Andre to Michael Asher).However, as well as sensitizing viewers to their physical embodiment, minimalistwork also allowed them to revel in reflections and illusions—and these featuresbecame crucial to the other half of minimalism’s legacy. Artists such as James Turrelltook their lead from Judd’s shiny surfaces and Flavin’s lights to fabricate more andmore spectacular work. The virtual rather than material qualities of the viewingencounter became more and more predominant, and this amounted to what Foster

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calls “a catastrophe of Minimalism” that he sees culminating in the work of an artistlike Olafur Eliasson. A “triumph of the virtual” has occurred as artists create “conditions of immersion” and cultivate “effects of bedazzlement.”8

Though in their accounts of the spectacularization of contemporary art, criticssuch as Buchloh, Foster, and Meyer tackle art that is visually overwhelming and thatseems to replicate the characteristics of mass entertainment, all use the idea of spec-tacle in a way that is indebted to Guy Debord. For Debord, the spectacle was not somuch a matter of spectacular visual drama and entertainment but “a social rela-tionship between people that is mediated by images,”9 a relationship that Deborddefined as characterized by separation within and between human beings. Spectaclealso entailed a loss of historical consciousness. With these ideas of spectacle inmind, the problem with spectacular work is therefore not merely that it disorien-tates and dazzles its viewers, distorting their sense of their physical situation anddisabling their critical faculties. Spectacular work increases the reach and effects of the society of the spectacle, contributing to the amnesia that permeates contem-porary life and to the kinds of social separation and losses of community thatDebord described.

Buchloh’s account of the “retardaire humanist, if not outright mythical or reli-gious, themes and messages” of art such as Viola’s indicates that another problem ofthe spectacularization of contemporary art involves the traditional emotionalresponses the work solicits. Especially where video projections show single humansubjects standing in for “everyman,” viewers are manipulated into sentimental reac-tions characterized by feelings of sympathy, fear, pity, hope, et cetera. These feel-ings cannot be mobilized against the separation that Debord describes, because theyare intertwined with an outdated (Christian) outlook that assumes that subjects canredeem one another’s plight through love and charity. This outlook fails to considerthe considerably more complex situation of contemporary social relations that persists in the society of the spectacle. In connection with this matter, Andrea Fraserhas written that

It’s difficult not to read the return of “affect” in contemporary art and art dis-course symptomatically, as a backlash against the critical theory and practicesthat gained ascendancy in the 1980s and early 90s. The new affect in art seemsto have as its referent precisely the kind of authentic experience and unitarysubjectivity that postmodern theory aimed to dismantle. It seems to be con-structed in opposition to subjectivities rooted in the social and the historical,

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especially those of identity politics and post-colonial theory; universalizingsubjectivity as something beyond identity and particularity in a way that mayalso be connected to how globalization has overtaken multi-culturalism andcritical post-colonialism. Affect is one of the foundations of “we are the world,”“family of man” representations.10

Over the past few years, we have become more and more accustomed to artistsusing four or five screens to project video work simply because a black box spacecan accommodate this many surfaces, and we have seen larger and more expensivesculptural installations that fill cavernous interiors designed to house them. At thesame time, many counterpositions to the spectacularization of contemporary arthave emerged. We have seen incredibly sharp (and amusing) critiques of inflatedmuseum architecture (one thinks particularly of Andrea Fraser’s Little Frank andHis Carp) and of the kind of affect that spectacular art has always provoked (Fraser’smore recent video, A Visit to the Sistine Chapel). Tackling spectacle’s obliterationof history and memory, many artists have explicitly turned to a concern with his-torical representation (Matthew Buckingham, for instance). While new technologiesabound to consign perfectly good older ones to obsolescence, other artists haveturned to such formats as 16mm film and have used them in a way that emphasisestheir old qualities and their materiality (the work of Tacita Dean). Though he hasalso used obsolete technologies (for instance, the early Atari game) and has exploredhistorical subject matter, Pierre Huyghe has been associated with a position of coun-terspectacle for other reasons, too, though the nature of his contestation has beenthe subject of debate. Thinking of projects such as Blanche-Neige Lucie and TheThird Memory, some have argued that Huyghe attempts to create the conditions forpeople who have been exploited by Hollywood to gain a belated victory over theforces of the culture industry (for instance, Lucie Dolène, who was never paid forher dubbed voice in the French version of Snow White, or John Wojtowicz, whosestory was used, without his permission, as the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon).11

For others, notably Tom McDonough, Huyghe does not offer an opportunity to combat

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the entertainment industry somuch as present a pessimisticanalysis of its total control.Huyghe demonstrates “the ever-increasing conscription of thesubject by the mechanisms of

that culture, the culmination of more than a half-century of attempts to colonizeeveryday life down to its most minute aspects.”12 Huyghe explores “the topographyof spectacle from within.” Analysing the consequences of the society of the spectaclelike few others, he is “the phenomenologist of this upside-down world.”13

No matter whether we accept McDonough’s arguments or Huyghe’s earlier cham-pions’ accounts of his response to the entertainment industry, we need to revise ourapproach to Huyghe’s work and to its relation to the spectacularization of contem-porary art in view of the projects he has completed in the past few years. Some of the features that characterize these works would seem to align them with the tendencies in contemporary art that figures such as Buchloh and Foster critique. Forinstance, as well as working from historical material, Huyghe has used fictionalstarting points to initiate totally fantastical works. He places a great emphasis onmaking videos that are extraordinarily seductive visually, and he spares no cost todo so. The exhibitions in which he presents videos alongside other objects andarchitectural interventions tend to be conceived as totally immersive installations,virtual and strange worlds that disorientate viewers, making them forget their phys-ical presence in a particular time and place.

In these extraordinary environments, and before his videos, a sentimental responseto the work is unsurprising. I have already mentioned my own memory of Le Châteaude Turing, and I imagine that Huyghe’s next major installation—L’expédition scin-tillante at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, would have been similarly mesmerizing. Thisincluded a ship made of melting ice, a simulation of various weather systems, ablack ice rink with a solo skater, and a split light box. I saw this last element whenlater it toured on its own. To the tune of Eric Satie’s Gymnopédies, clouds of dry iceswirled under gently changing purple and orange lights whose tones merged in thesteam. Soothed by the music, I found myself gawping at the multicolored mist: asmuch as it might have recognized and replicated the conventions of so many 1970s“son-et-lumière” and psychedelic displays, allowing them to be seen as historicalconventions, this work was also unexpectedly enchanting. Huyghe has used stockpresentational devices of entertainment elsewhere to prompt affect—the elaborate

Opposite: Pierre Huyghe.L’expédition scintillante, Act 1,Untitled (Ice Boat), 2002. Ice,weather score, rain, fog, snow.(Offshore radio: “Radio Music” by John Cage.) Installation atKunsthaus Bregenz. Courtesy ofMarian Goodman Gallery, NewYork/Paris. Photo: KuB, MarkusTretter.

Left: Pierre Huyghe. L’expéditionscintillante, Act 2, Untitled (LightShow), 2002. Light box sculpture;wood and steel; four black metalgrills, lighting system, smokesystem. Installation at KunsthausBregenz. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris. Photo: KuB, Markus Tretter.

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puppet show of This is not a time for dreaming (2005); the forest scene with traineddoes and rabbits in Streamside Day Follies (2003). Another trope that (for me)cranks up the sentimentality of his recent work is the “lone figure(s) set against ahostile environment.” I mentioned earlier the sight of Annlee on the moon, but onecould also point to the scene showing two young girls alone in the forest in the filmStreamside Day Follies, to the lone skater, and to the pitiable puppet of Le Corbusier,set against the institution of Harvard in This is not a time for dreaming. (These “lonefigures” do not invite the kind of strong identification that the “everyman” figuresof Viola’s work might prompt. This is because they are either nonhuman [a puppet,an animation, an animal] or performing too obviously a role to invite empathy [theskater]. Huyghe’s viewer becomes conscious of the absurdity of feeling for suchcharacters but feels for them nonetheless.) A third generator of affect in the work isthe presence of fragile structures—architectural and social—that inspire a kind ofwistfulness, a wonder tinged with the sadness of inevitable transience. Here I amthinking of the momentary community in Les grands ensembles, the melting ice boatat Bregenz, the temporary film-screening pavilion in the Streamside Day Folliesinstallation at Dia, and the paper model of the Sackler Center in the Harvard project.14

In an interview conducted while these projects were being made, Huyghe said,

We must dispel one received idea and that is that the spectacle is a fatalism,inherently alienating. The spectacle is a format, it is a way to do things. . . . The point is not as an artist to occupy the position of simply rejecting the spec-tacle or entertainment as bad; this is a form of escapism. Nor is the point just toincorporate spectacle, and occupy the position of an artist saying, “I will alsojust be an entertainer.” The point is to take spectacle as a format, and to use itif the need presents itself.15

With this comment in mind, I want to ask exactly how Huyghe uses spectacle, fic-tion, virtuality, and sentiment without lapsing into mere entertainment and whatpossibly new forms of criticality emerge precisely through these formats and affects.I will do this while focusing on Huyghe’s most extravagant project to date, a workhe has called “a double spectacle,”16 A Journey that wasn’t.

3. A Journey that wasn’tTo understand A Journey that wasn’t, we need first to acknowledge that it is notmerely a video but a work in many parts. The project includes a journey to Antarcticaand the activities carried out during the voyage; an event staged in Central Park after

Pierre Huyghe. A Journey thatwasn’t, 2005. Super 16 mm filmand HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris. Photo: Pierre Huyghe.

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the journey; a video that edits together footage of Antarctica and Central Park; andan installation in which this video is shown together with other architectural andsculptural components. The work should also be understood to incorporate theelaborate text that Huyghe (and his collaborators) published in Artforum betweenthe completion of the journey and the Central Park event. The work is also linked toprevious projects by Huyghe (in particular, L’expédition scintillante) as well as toyet-to-be-realized ones—a project for a kind of “park-village” that the artist claimedwas being announced by his first exhibitions of A Journey that wasn’t.17 This kindof fragmentation and dispersal is typical of Huyghe’s practice. He has long resistedthe format of making a monolithic art work (a single-channel video, for instance)that could be completed and concluded prior to its presentation at an exhibition of

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finite duration. Addressing his tendency to produce dispersed artworks and to openup the various conventions of exhibition, Huyghe has often cited Robert Smithsonas an important precursor. For instance, Huyghe would understand Spiral Jetty notjust as a sculpture but as a work including the sculpture, the photographs of it, as well as Smithson’s film and published text. A Journey that wasn’t is similarlysplit between different places and mediums, but the major difference is thatHuyghe’s work is also fractured temporally between the journey, the Central Parkevent, the installation, as well as the projects that preceded and that will follow allthese elements.

Although thinking of this project as having a beginning, middle, and end wouldbe inappropriate, we can nonetheless inquire about its origins. Huyghe first spokeabout the idea of going on a journey to Antarctica in an interview with Hans-UlrichObrist conducted for Flash Art in 2002. As he always does, Obrist asked Huygheabout “unrealized projects,” and the artist mentioned “this project of an expeditionto the South Pole, a film like those pseudo-scientific Cousteau documentaries,which would show a crew on an offshore radio-boat going to perform a piece ofmusic for the penguins.”18 The following year, Huyghe made the exhibition atBregenz that, he wrote, “provides the scenario of an expedition.”19 The extraordi-nary installation described above was conceived as a kind of script for the Antarcticjourney to follow. Part of this installation involved a re-creation of all the weatherconditions described in Edgar Allen Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and thisnovel became a main impetus for A Journey that wasn’t. Though Poe’s tale wastotally fabricated, its preface claims it is a factual account published “under the garbof fiction,”20 and with this intertwining of fact and fiction as a kind of precedentHuyghe later explained the motivations for A Journey that wasn’t in more detail,complicating these categories further. The factual effects of global warming, he indi-cated, encouraged him to invent a fictional hypothesis that went as follows: theretreat of the polar ice sheets should lead to the creation of new islands and to muta-tions in the Antarctic fauna; a journey to such islands should therefore result in acontact with a mutated species.

Determining to explore his fictional hypothesis through real means, in February2005 Huyghe hired a “world-renowned polar research vessel”21 and its ten-strongcrew, and set off from Argentina to Antarctica with a group of six other artists andwriters. According to an account of the journey later published in Artforum, the trip,though “real,” induced experiences that veered between seeming completely virtualand feeling dramatically sensuous. To reduce seasickness, for example, the artists

Pierre Huyghe. A Journey thatwasn’t, 2005. Super 16 mm filmand HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris. Photo: Pierre Huyghe.

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took medication, which “produced permanent twilight sleep,” so that for days “theirminds were lost to obscure dreams.” Later on, when their environment became rep-etitious, they felt “caught in a temporal loop,” cut away from the anchoring qualityof daily time. However, in contrast, they were at other moments so enlivened bytheir first walks on the Antarctic ice that they joined together in an impromptu concert: “everyone on board took up their instruments . . . slowly a musical tracktook shape.” The polar terrain also shifted from seeming illusory—“a landscapewithout matter, only light” to being frighteningly real (walloping winds, freezingseas). At times the boat stuck to the planned course, but at other times it was as if ithad to submit to the whims of fiction: the boat was transported by storms to unpre-dicted and unknown locations and (owing to a breakdown in the satellite commu-

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nications system) lost track of its log, so that it seemed to be returning to the sameareas days after leaving them behind. Despite getting stuck in pack ice and lost inchaotic storms, Huyghe and crew eventually landed and set up a station on anisland. This station was a large globular light that pulsed on and off in an attempt tocommunicate with the mutated species that the artists had anticipated would pre-sent itself. The first time the station was set up, it had to be dismantled because of polarwinds before any such species came along, but the next day it was reinstalled. Thistime, Huyghe’s fictional hypothesis was verified when an albino penguin appeared,at first almost mistaken for a floating chunk of sea ice, then almost camouflagedagainst the island’s snow, but totally present nonetheless.

As well as installing the station that attempted to attract the penguin, on the polarisland Huyghe had also set up “a machine specially designed to translate the island’sshape into a complex sequence of sound and light, not unlike a luminous, musicalvariation of Morse code or the vocal and visual displays animals use to communi-cate information about their territories.” Using data collected from this machine,after his return from Antarctica, Huyghe collaborated with composer Joshua Codyto construct a score that would serve as an equivalent for the island consisting ofmusical notes and lighting instructions. In the second major part of A Journey thatwasn’t, he arranged for this score to be performed in New York as a kind of musical.A full orchestra would play the music while a lighting crew would follow theinstructions for the sequence of illuminations. This spectacle was arranged at the Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park, and an audience gathered on a rainy night inOctober 2005. Aware that they would be filmed, they sat through the musical andlighting performance, their seats facing the center of the rink on which Huyghe hadconstructed a model of an iceberg. Various machines pumped fog out around thesestructures as the score was played, and toward the end of the performance, a smallanimatronic albino penguin appeared on the crest of one structure. The score wasplayed three times in succession, with small breaks between, but with the sameaudience sitting through all three iterations.

Huyghe’s next step was to edit a video using footage taken in Antarctica andCentral Park. The video, almost a half-hour long, disrupts any promise of linearityor coherent narrative. Rather than showing the Antarctic trip first, followed by theCentral Park musical, Huyghe interweaves passages from each (there are three sec-tions each of both parts), and rather than representing the trip from start to finish (ashad the narrator of the Artforum text), he placed moments from different parts of thetrip out of sequential order. The video begins with footage from Antarctica, showing

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what we can assume (having read the Artforum text) is the moment when the first,unsuccessful flashing-light station was almost decimated by winds. Then, we cut toa scene in Central Park, either before the audience arrived or after they left. Thevideo now cuts back to Antarctica, and the time when the boat was trapped in packice (a point on the journey, that is, before any stations were set up). Ravishing shotsof Antarctic seas, mountains, and whales follow before we move again to CentralPark where we see the orchestra and its audience. The next section of footage againcomes from the polar voyage and includes the construction of the second stationand the appearance of the white penguin. Finally we switch again to Central Parkand to the animatronic penguin.

Huyghe first showed the completed video at the 2006 Whitney Biennial, but ashort time after he realized an installation at ARC in Paris (later reconfigured at TateModern), which can be considered as another dimension of A Journey that wasn’t.In these installations, the video was presented in a large carpeted room, filling anentire wall and projected extremely crisply by a state-of-the-art device. In Paris, toreach the work, one had first to navigate an arched corridor in which two massivewhite doors twirled slowly along tracks attached to the ceiling. The space became afantastical Wonderland in which categories of inside and outside collapsed. Iremember coming right up to the doors expecting they would stop or turn at myapproach, but the motors powered on regardless. Rather than an interactive kineticsculpture, the room felt more like an unfamiliar environment whose shape shiftedaccording to its own unfathomable logic. The doors beckoned toward two rooms.One was sealed off apart from a small aperture through which could be seen a pavil-ion and an animatronic penguin. The pavilion was designed by François Roche andwas supposed to be made from the actual floor of the museum, sliced up and raisedinto the shape of an island, suspended by the counterweight of ice blocks hangingto one side. (This idea was not realized—the structure in the end was made of cor-rugated aluminum). Beside this room was the carpeted screening space.

4. Alterity and EquivalenceWith these descriptions in place of the trip, the Central Park event, the video, andthe installation, we can begin to consider what might be at stake in A Journey thatwasn’t. One idea with which we might legitimately start is that the work is a kind ofmeditation (albeit an imaginative and expensive one) on the current ecological crisis.After all, the Artforum account opened with mention of the recession of the Antarcticshelf “due to the effects of global warming” and went on to note “widespread envi-

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ronmental damage.” The albino penguin is supposedly amutation caused by human irresponsibility oceans awayfrom its unnamed and melting habitat. Starting with thispresent-day environmental catastrophe, Huyghe’s text endsby invoking a future political one: “In 2041 the treaty thatprotects this continent will be revised.” The suggestion isthat after this point, the already fragile ecosystem will beshattered as the continent is bought up and colonized asnever before.

But does A Journey that wasn’t really address environ-mental calamities and soon-to-be-contested land rights?This seems to me to be a complete dead-end when it comesto considering the work’s actual content. Huyghe has goneso far as to say that the mentions of global warming werehooks to attract attention to the work and never part of hisactual concerns. Certainly A Journey that wasn’t has littlecommonality with contemporary artistic projects that dotackle this subject—Gustav Metzger’s work with car exhaustfumes, for instance, or Tue Greenfort’s contribution to the2007 Muenster Skulptur Projekte. So could one criticizeHuyghe for using a genuine political-ecological catastrophe as the mere prompt tomake a work,22 or ask whether he had other serious ambitions?

I think the project can be defended if we forget the representation of global warmingand concentrate on the two main structures of Huyghe’s work. First, we can con-sider Huyghe’s desire to invent a fiction (the hypothesis that a mutated speciesmight exist) and to investigate it with real means (the full-blown trip to Antarctica).This structure seems to replicate one of the features of the society of the spectaclethat Debord articulated. Debord was concerned with the ways in which the fictionspropagated by media images created reality, with the effect that reality begins toseem unreal and becomes debased. “All that once was directly lived has becomemere representation.” “The spectacle erases the dividing line between true andfalse, repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehoodmaintained by the organization of appearances.”23 Huyghe takes the very structureof the spectacle (fiction creating reality) as a format but forges completely neweffects with this structure. The reality that is achieved by his fiction is the comingtogether of a temporary community on board the Antarctic voyage—the creation of

Pierre Huyghe. A Journey thatwasn’t, 2005. Super 16 mm filmand HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris and the Public Art Fund,New York. Photo: Danny Bright,New York.

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a group experience of a completely unusual kind. The reality also included theexperience of what Huyghe calls “a no-knowledge zone”—by which he means anentity (in this case, Antarctica) that has not previously been subject to excessivemediation or representation and that thus serves as a new terrain for thought andactivity. Whereas for Debord the spectacle produces alienation and separation,Huyghe’s fiction results in cooperation and new experience. Huyghe is not so naïveas to suggest that he has created a totally utopian community (the account of life onthe ship includes a description of a time when all passengers were locked insidetheir own reveries); nor does he claim to have invented a permanent community.But a temporary bond nonetheless exists between these subjects that is the outcomeof a fictional hypothesis.

The second main structure of Huyghe’s work is more important and involves therelationship between the Central Park event and the polar voyage and also the videoand the two filmed events. Though his experience of a “no-knowledge zone” mighthave prompted the colonialist ambition to bring this zone home, Huyghe in fact pre-cisely resisted this temptation. Huyghe has stated that his aim was to avoid repre-

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senting the voyage or documenting it.24 Instead, he wanted the Central Park eventto be topologically “equivalent” to the Antarctic voyage. The crucial point was tohave an experience involving some contact with an elsewhere and an Other andthen communicate the experience without representing it. No images or direct rep-resentations of Antarctica were shown in Central Park: rather, the island was trans-formed into a score of music and light. In a related way, Huyghe’s video did notrepresent the previous two parts of the work as a documentary film would: instead,in its nonlinear structure it served as another topological equivalent. (The editmeant that the screening space was by turns dark and, when the white Antarcticlight bounced off the screen and around the carpet and walls, extremely bright.Becoming a flashing light box, the screening space equated to the “communicationdevice” in Antarctica and the theater lights in Central Park.)

Huyghe’s thinking here derives from Victor Segalen’s 1919 Essay on Exoticism.Segalen produced a critique of colonialism and of false exoticism, referring totourists who brought back souvenirs from far-off places assuming those souvenirscould represent such cultures. Against this, Segalen envisaged an alternative, gen-uine exoticism. Segalen wanted to preserve a sense of the total diversity of theOther, its “eternal incomprehensibility.”25 Following Segalen, Huyghe set out tomake a work that has as its most radical aspect the recognition that while one mightexperience an “elsewhere” and communicate with an “other being,” its alterity mustbe preserved. “When you bring back something,” he said, “you are losing the alter-ity, the diversity, in the translation. You need to find a principle of equivalence; oth-erwise it’s a tragedy.”26 Antarctica and the penguin serve Huyghe as the examples,but they are contingent rather than essential to his work. (He has said that he couldjust as well have made the work by going to “Amazonia.”)27 Conceived in this way,we could say that A Journey that wasn’t doesn’t so much mime present conditions ascritique them. At a moment when the Other is always an object to be incorporated(whether by forces of globalization or war), the work proposes the impossibility ofsuch incorporation. And if spectacle is a “social condition,” recently described as“the submission of more and more facets of human sociability to the deadly solici-tations of the market,” Huyghe’s work proposes that by recognizing the “eternalincomprehensibility” of the Other, this submission can perhaps be combated.28

These ideas are the most important ones in Huyghe’s work, and once we recog-nize them, we can begin to think again about his installation. Huyghe might havedisplayed the video component of A Journey that wasn’t on a small monitor or cre-ated a simple and discreet “black box” projection environment that one entered

Pierre Huyghe. A Journey thatwasn’t, 2005. Super 16 mm filmand HD video transferred to HD video. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris and the Public Art Fund,New York. Photo: Danny Bright,New York.

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from an empty museum corridor. Had this been the case, the “work” would haveappeared to the viewers to have taken place before they came to the exhibition, andthe film (despite its nonlinearity) would have seemed like a document of two for-mer events (the Antarctic trip and the New York musical). Instead, Huyghe createdan immersive, spectacular installation. From the beginning, as one entered the spaceand saw the twirling doors, one felt as if the laws of reality had been bent. Thismeant both that the work was present and ongoing all around the viewer and alsothat a sense of alterity, so crucial to the Central Park musical and the video, pre-vailed from the beginning. The idea of communication without direct iconic repre-sentation was also emphasised by Roche’s pavilion. Alongside the video, this wasanother structure that was an equivalent but not an image of the “elsewhere”encountered during the trip. The pavilion was made to look not like an iceberg butto relate topologically to it. This point would have been even clearer if the structurehad been made of the floor of the museum, because it would have incorporated thesense that the floor could descend back to its horizontal position, corresponding tothe idea of an iceberg melting.

All this is to say that Huyghe created a spectacular environment not to disarm oroverwhelm his viewers but to reinforce the critical point at the center of the work:that an elsewhere and an Other can be contacted but not represented. But if a viewercomes to appreciate Huyghe’s ideas about alterity, topological equivalence, and(non)representation, does this happen through a purely intellectual route or throughthe way in which the work provokes other kinds of reactions? In response to LeChâteau de Turing I felt powerful (but unstable) feelings of pity, wistfulness, hope,nostalgia, and so on. What of the affective dimension of the spectators’ experience ofA Journey that wasn’t? The video alone produces a range of responses: opening witha very dark and very loud scene of a polar storm, the first of these is anxiety. Thelater scenes of Antarctica are so sublime that one can feel awestruck, but a joyousreaction to unbelievable beauty couples with queasiness, no more so than when afrozen landscape of sea ice swells up and down due to waves underneath, confus-ing the concepts of solidity and liquidity. The appearance of the albino penguin isunexpectedly touching. Appearing alone, its mutation means that it cannot quitefunction with the rest of the colony. What’s more, its environment and solitude have

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been disturbed by the station whose purpose it cannot comprehend. The penguinis, in short, another of the “lone figures” that have populated Huyghe’s recent work.

All of these responses find their opposites in the Manhattan scenes. Sectionsshowing the swirling fog and the flashing lights strike one not as genuinely scary butas conventionally melodramatic, and where Antarctica was visually enthralling, themusical—in appearance—is somewhat disappointing. Whereas in a normal musi-cal, stage lights illuminate an elaborate set, and music illustrates an unfoldingdrama, here these two normally peripheral aspects of stagecraft are the center of thespectacle. Little is visible on the ice rink, and when the animatronic penguin doesappear, rather than seeming pitiable it is absurd, creating a moment of bathos.

The video was constructed in such a way that it provoked a range of responsesfrom fear to rapture to pity and from knowingness to boredom to ironic bemuse-ment. The installation likewise produced moods of childhood wonderment, asbefore the twirling doors, and then of adult knowingness, as when standing at theaperture that looked onto Roche’s pavilion. A Journey that wasn’t might easily bediscussed without paying attention to these affects, but this would fail to accountfor its complexity. By allowing his viewer to be attracted to Antarctica and the pen-guin through fear, rapture, and pity, Huyghe ensures that the importance of the else-where/Other is emphasized on the level of desire. By producing a contrasting set ofresponses with the New York material, he also guarantees that the viewer’s emo-tional attachment to his material is fractured. In the process of breaking the bondsof attraction, Huyghe further emphasizes the alterity of the elsewhere and Other bydistancing them from the viewer emotionally, recognizing that difference makessolid bonds of identification impossible.29 Huyghe deliberately manipulates hisviewers’ feelings, and recognizes that sentimentality is as important as intellection.Here, we can see how this sentimental dimension of his work contributes to its critical dimension.

5. Queries and ContextsAs much as A Journey that wasn’t suggests some of the ways in which spectacle andsentiment can be used for critical ends, the work does prompt a number of questionsand possible criticisms. We could start with the concept of the “elsewhere” and the“Other” that Huyghe wanted to encapsulate in the landscape of Antarctica and inthe figure of the penguin. Huyghe wishes to affirm what Segalen called the “eternalincomprehensibility” of the other, and this affirmation is the basis of a resistancethat the work mounts to the imperialist impulse to invade, to economically master,

Right: Pierre Huyghe. I Do NotOwn Snow White, I Do Not Own4’33’’, 2006. Gates, wood, whiteneon light. Variable dimensions.Designed at M/M(Paris).Exhibition view, Celebration Park,Musée d’Art Moderne de la villede Paris. Courtesy of MarianGoodman Gallery, New York/Paris. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.

Opposite: Pierre Huyghe and R (n).Terra Incognito, Isla Ociosidad,prototype, 2006. Celebration Park exhibition, ARC, Paris, 2006.Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.

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and to represent other people and places. However, Segalen’s notion of radical distance and irreconcilable difference might be challenged—and with it some of theideas in Huyghe’s work. A lack of mutual understanding might characterize the rela-tionship between the albino penguin and the flashing station set up by Huyghe andhis collaborators, but what does it mean to suggest that human subjects cannot rep-resent one another? If we take the penguin to be contingent and emblematic, wemight begin to think of A Journey that wasn’t as an allegory of social relations andindeed of political ones. For all the resistance to traditional colonialist principles,the work might overstate ideas about difference and the impossibilities of one culturespeaking to, or on behalf of, another. Perhaps, as much as the current momentrequires us to question (as Huyghe does) the urge to represent the Other, it calls forefforts to challenge the idea of cultural “incomprehensibility.”

A second problem concerns my argument that the work uses the structure ofspectacle against the values of spectacle culture, for instance, to produce social rela-tions unlike those that the society of the spectacle usually creates. This argument isbased on the recognition that Huyghe started with a fiction and verified it throughreal means and that he put into place a temporary community absolutely not char-acterized by alienation or separation. But what of the nonfictional factors thatlaunched A Journey that wasn’t; for example, the real funding mechanisms that hadto be in place to support his trip. While the huge expense of the work is always evident (whether one considers the trip, the Central Park event, the video projec-tion, or the installation), Huyghe did not really acknowledge or negotiate within thework the economic and social relations that were involved in the work’s production.Some have found it hard to accept the notion that such an expensive work as A Journey that wasn’t could in any way be critical of the underpinnings of spectac-ular society. I disagree, but I concede that Huyghe’s challenge to modes of socialitywould be more convincing if it included some recognition of the economic andinstitutional structures of the work itself. I am not suggesting that Huyghe shouldhave provided a dry, full financial breakdown documenting the various inputs of thePublic Art Fund, the Whitney Museum, the Marian Goodman Gallery, et cetera.Rather I’m recalling that in other projects (but not here), he found poetic means ofreflecting on the conditions of his work’s emergence and its institutional setting

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(both the Dia and the Harvard projects have such reflexive components). In the Tateinstallation, he included a neon sign reading “I do not own Tate Modern nor the Death Star,” one of a series of Disclaimers for which Huyghe recognized andchallenged the ways that an art institution enshrines the idea of authorship duringa retrospective. But this disclaimer only provoked one to wonder about all the kindsof ownership involved in the production of A Journey that wasn’t that are notaddressed more explicitly.

Despite the reservations these last points suggest, I want to end by defending theplace of this work in the context of contemporary practice. I separate A Journey thatwasn’t from the uncritical and humanist spectacular work that Buchloh and Fostertarget (they mentioned Turrell and Viola, but one could easily cite other examples,such as some of the recent sculptural installations of Anish Kapoor and AnthonyGormley). But Huyghe’s work is also distinct from that of the various other artistsassociated with a counterspectacular position. In recent years, many of these artistshave made work in which some of the features I have located in Huyghe’s work arealso evident. The merging of fact and fiction, for instance, has become a feature ofthe work of Matthew Buckingham (who has turned to the fiction of Herman Melvilleto look at the gentrification of twenty-first-century Liverpool), of Sharon Lockhart(whose film Pine Flat documents teenage life in a fictitious community), and ofTacita Dean (who often uses found images as the bases to imagine fictitious plots, asin her photogravure work The Russian Ending). In all these examples, however, theencounter that the artists set up is characterized by an appreciation of the material-ity of the projected or inscribed image rather than by its virtuality. Meanwhile, otherartists have, like Huyghe, created immersive and otherworldly installations inwhich to show video work—notably, Anri Sala, who has realized two such exhibi-tions in Paris and Warsaw—but the videos shown in these installations are usuallyentrenched in the physical realities of the world. Huyghe takes the risk of creatingextremely seductive work from fictitious starting points and of showing it in spec-tacular installations. But perhaps an even greater risk is the one he takes with whatDavid Joselit has called “delicate sentimentality.” We should remember that AJourney that wasn’t premiered between The March of the Penguins and Happy Feet.Huyghe certainly does not ask us to look at his albino penguin as a cuddly stand-infor a human being, but he does choose to create material that provokes reactions ofpity and wonder. Rarely has an artist associated with a critical position been cannyenough to work with affection, attraction, and amazement and not just against them.30

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NotesThis essay has developed from papers given in the “Virtualities” panel at the College Art Associationin February 2007, chaired by T.J. Demos and Margaret Sundell, and the symposium “RethinkingSpectacle” organized by Claire Bishop and myself at Tate Modern in March 2007. The ideas are alsoindebted to many fruitful conversations in less formal contexts with T.J. and Claire.

1. In 1999, Huyghe and Philippe Parreno acquired rights to a fictional girl called Annlee from aJapanese company that sold basic sketches and character descriptions of potential manga characters.They each made animations using this character, Huyghe’s Two Minutes Out of Time and Parreno’sAnywhere Out of the World. Subsequently Huyghe produced One Million Kingdoms. The artists thengave Annlee to a number of colleagues, such as Liam Gillick and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, all ofwhom made their own works. Each time, Annlee’s “shell” was filled in a different way. The projectcame to an end in December 2002 with a fireworks display in which Annlee’s face was illuminated.See No Ghost Just a Shell, ed. Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno (Cologne: Walther Konig, 2003).

2. Philip Nobel, “Sign of the Times,” Artforum, January 2003. Nobel reports that Huyghe instructedviewers of Annlee, “Don’t make it romantic.”

3. Benjamin Buchloh, “Control, by Design,” Artforum, September 2001, 163.4. See Pierre Huyghe, ‘Les grands ensembles’ in Le Château de Turing, exh. cat. (Dijon: Le Consortium,

2003), 136–137.5. Buchloh, 163.6. Hal Foster, “The Spectacularization of Contemporary Art,” in Foster et al., Art since 1900

(London: Thames and Hudson, 2005), 656. This text occurs in a chapter prompted by Bill Viola’s 1988 Whitney retrospective. Viola, Foster wrote, “works to virtualize his space and to derealize his medium . . . so that his ahistorical vision of spiritual transcendence can be effected—that is, it cancome across as an effect.” Elsewhere in the chapter, tackling James Turrell, Foster wrote that “For someviewers, the free floating aestheticism is exhilarating; for some, however, it bears a disturbing relationto dazzling forms of technological spectacle.”

7. James Meyer, “No More Scale,” Artforum, Summer 2004, 226.8. Hal Foster, “Six Paragraphs on Dan Flavin,” Artforum, February 2005, 160–161. Minimalist and

postminimalist artists have spoken out against the spectacular turn in contemporary art. In his 2000article “Size Matters,” Robert Morris wrote, “Art emanating the Wagner effect perhaps dumbs down ornumbs down with a massive, swooning, mystical aesthetic awe whose price per square foot alone caninduce vertigo.” “Style doesn’t much matter for the Wagner effect,” he continued, “gigantic size andexpense being the generating engine.” Robert Morris, “Size Matters,” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 3 (Spring2000). Meanwhile, Richard Serra complained that “Recent installation art . . . delivering instant cathar-sis responds to an image-saturated consumer culture. Reprocessed media images have become the newfound objects. Presentations mimic commercial display and marketing techniques. The theatricalityof the ephemeral light, smoke, mirror, and sound show has returned, together with the iconography ofSurrealism, to attract viewers. There is nothing cheaper than cheap Surrealism. It feeds too easily anaudience’s desire for instant accessibility.” Richard Serra, “Questions, Contradictions, Solutions,” in

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Richard Serra: The Matter of Time, ed. Carmen Giminez (Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum, 2005), 47.9. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 12.10. Andrea Fraser, “The Economy of Affect,” Texte zur Kunst 65 (March 2007), 154.11. Jean-Charles Massera, “The Lesson of Stains” in Pierre Huyghe: The Third Memory, exh. cat.

(Chicago: The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 2000), 93–13912. Tom McDonough, “No Ghost,” October 110 (Fall 2004): 109.13. McDonough, 110–111.14. The only critic so far to have dealt with this aspect of Huyghe’s work in any detail is David

Joselit. In an article responding to Huyghe’s Dia exhibition Streamside Day Follies, 2003, Joselitaddressed the work’s “delicate sentimentality” and explained why it was that the installation felt “somelancholy” to him each time he visited the show. David Joselit, “Inside the Light Cube,” Artforum,March 2004, 154–159.

15. George Baker, “A Conversation with Pierre Huyghe,” October 100 (Fall 2004): 104.16. Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Conversation with Pierre Huyghe,” in Celebration Park, exh. cat. (London:

Tate Modern, 2006), 124.17. Obrist, “Conversation with Pierre Huyghe,” 125.18. Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Pierre Huyghe: Collaborating on Utopia,” Flash Art, July–September 2002, 80.19. Pierre Huyghe, “L’Expédition Scintillante: A Musical,” in Pierre Huyghe, exh. cat. (Turin:

Castello di Rivoli, 2004), 92.20. Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (London: Penguin, 2006), 4.21. The Association of Freed Times, “El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo: A Journey That Wasn’t,” Artforum,

Summer 2005, 297. The quotes that follow are all from this text, which was cowritten by Huyghe andFrancesca Grassi.

22. Such a criticism would be akin to the one Tom McDonough makes when addressing Les grandsensembles, which does not in any way explore the social events exploding in high rise buildings inthe banlieux in the early 1990s.

23. Debord, 1, 153.24. “I wanted to interrogate a situation which had ‘come from elsewhere,’ without trying to re-pre-

sent it. Instead, I sought an equivalence of sorts. What was performed in Central Park is equivalent towhat took place in Antarctica.” Obrist, “Conversation with Pierre Huyghe,” 125; emphasis in original.“This opera, this musical show, was an equivalent experience to encountering the island without beinga representation of it.” Pierre Huyghe to Tom Morton, “Space Explorer,” frieze Issue 100 (June-July-August 2006): 217.

25. “Exoticism is nothing other than the notion of difference, the perception of Diversity, the knowl-edge that something is other than one’s self,” Victor Segalen, Essay on Exoticism (Durham, NC: DukeUniversity Press, 2002), 21.

26. Pierre Huyghe to Tom Morton, 217.27. Pierre Huyghe in conversation with Mark Godfrey, Tate Modern, June 2006.28. Retort, Afflicted Powers (London: Verso, 2005), 19. One possible criticism of this argument

would start by recalling that Debord described spectacle as itself being a force of separation of subjects.

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I am arguing that Huyghe—through Segalen—proposes that one recognize the “eternal incomprehen-sibility” of the other, which also sounds like a proposal toward separation. How can one counter separation with separation? The kind of separation that Debord decries is totally different from thekind of separation that Segalen theorizes.

29. To recall Andrea Fraser’s words, Huyghe thus refuses a “we are the world” or “family of man”representation, but he does this by producing different kinds of affects rather than by critiquing affecttout court, the position Fraser often adopts.

30. One might begin, however, to construct a history of practices that do manage this. Artists suchas Bas Jan Ader, Fischli & Weiss, and Felix Gonzales-Torres would be important to this history. On thissubject, see the roundtable “Powered by Emotion,” Texte zur Kunst 65 (March 2007), 34–55.