While exploring a state of being, Pierre Huyghe places an unusual and incredibly disturbing viewpoint of the conception of being alive through his use of film. Making its debut in London (2014), Human Mask, a 19 minute film, is almost as mesmerizing as it is disturbing. Viewers watch what is seemingly a girl moving about a small restaurant, but not everything is as it seems. When the face of the girl is revealed, the lifeless mask of a human stares back. Upon closer examination the viewer notices that there is no human, but a monkey behind the blankness. The “deadness” of the mask mixed with the primates’ slow and seemingly confused motion brings about loneliness and sadness, creating a despairing feel to the environment further enhanced by the dreariness of both the inside and outside space in which the she moves about. As the girl moves about the structure, the surrounding areas appear decimated. With no trace of life except for a cat that occasionally appears around her, there is a creation of an indistinguishable line between reality and an euphoric state that brings about a sense of dread. By touching the delicate blankness of her face, the monkeys gnarled hand clashes against the blurred line, showing a glimpse of reality before reverting back to what it was doing and repeating while moving about the space.
Being as disturbing yet hypnotic as it is, Human Mask creates a response to a more socialistic view of how humans view the concept of being alive and challenges it:
Taken in Fukushima after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of 2011, with the sense of dread long since passing and still apparent, the film brought up a sense of loneliness. What does it mean to be alive? As the girl wanders around, resting and wandering more, the answer becomes increasingly abstract. Fantasy becomes reality and reality is lost in the abyss. As humans, there is a sense of dread and defeat that follows disasters and unfortunate events in life, bringing about a nature where the concept of being alive becomes irrelevant. Entering a stasis, there is a seductive nature to following forsaken paths in which the will to leave or take off the “mask” becomes a foreign concept, and the notion of being human escapes from the mind. People become dolls to the flows of society, making a “mockery” of basic human characteristics after a disaster. Even though we have the potential to overcome these emotions, in those instances, we are lost. The monkey on the other hand never forgets what it is even though in the film, it is neither human nor primeape.
Throughout many of his works that explore a state of being, Huyghe utilizes living creatures such as monkeys, dogs, humans, and so many more. One work specifically locks itself onto the darker aspects of human beings and their state of mind. Host and the Cloud was a social experiment Huyghe conducted that questioned and criticized aspects of human traditions and rituals such as Halloween, May Day (celebration of Spring on May 1st), and Valentine's Day, exposing the darkness that lurks behind them. Taken through the course of the ritualistic holidays, the viewer is subject to events that unfold on such holidays as well as life in between, such as a trial and what seems to be a patient struggling with understanding what she sees. This patient, specifically, can see humanoid rabbits, one of which is standing outside the patient's room and occasionally eating the captions on screen. If that isn’t creepy enough, many subjects within the film are faceless with L.E.D-lit books covering their faces. These specific individuals seem to follow the flow of socially acceptable positions or scenarios, some of which portray positions of power. For the holiday aspects of the film, actors in witch's garb can be seen carving pumpkins in what seems to be a lab-like setting, Valentine's Day commences with a fake yet grotesquely captured orgy, and May Day is represented through the display of caterpillars and butterflies to bring out the life of spring. “Halfway between farce, exorcism and politics-fiction” (ElCultural.es (2014)), Huyghe showcases and analyzes behaviors of humans faced with traditionally accepted norms. As in Human Mask, Huyghe shows how we as humans delve into those norms as we delve into despair, losing touch with our true selves. However, apart from Human Mask, Host and the Cloud features aspects of human behavior with a different notion: “Maybe we’re all captives in someone else’s movie” (Smith, Roberta (2011)).
Instead of creating a mockery of a state of being, by contrast, Lauren McCarthy, an artist specializing in software development, enforces a state of being. Composed of 48 multi-touch screens, McCarthy created one of the largest digital interactive displays known as The Cube or The Changing Room. She created a state of being by encouraging viewers’ to actively participate and engage with one another through emotions chosen on the main screen. Blasted with radiant lights, colors, visuals and sounds, participants are directed in a manner which willingly forces their emotions to change. Unlike Human Mask, which seems to criticize certain emotional and physical states, The Cube encourages it in a non-isolated environment. By expressing the emotions displayed on screen, one is considered human, and sharing emotion with others allows for the state of mind to expand. McCarthy accomplishes all of this by asking a single question: “Do you want to feel?” Unlike Huyghe’s Human Mask, The Cube indulges in traditional states of being in a non-traditional setting where Human Mask detaches those states, such as despair, in a more traditional medium.
Pierre Huyghe has a knack for creating and exploring a state of being. Through his many films, he captures the aspects of humanity brought about by the darker shadows of the human mind. In creating Human Mask, Huyghe brings about a new light to humans’ state of mind while not even using a human being in his film. Instead, Huyghe uses the notion of the scientific theory that has been debated for many years which is what humans have evolved from: a monkey. Portrayed in the likeness of a human with a featureless human mask, a wig and human clothing, Huyghe dehumanizes the emotion of despair, which humans tend to lose themselves in, by using a monkey who never forgets who and what it is.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao