Pierre Huyghe: Liminal

Punta della Dogana (Venice), Mar-Nov/24

The highly anticipated 60th iteration of the Venice Biennale opened to the public in April, attracting hundreds of artists, curators, cultural practitioners, and aficionados to the Floating City. The main exhibition, Foreigners Everywhere, curated by MASP’s director Adriano Pedrosa, alongside more than 90 national pavilions in the Giardini, Arsenale, and several venues across Venice, are considered the focal points, as they have been for more than 125 years since the Biennale’s foundation in 1895. This year, the Biennale selected 30 projects as official collateral events, and several of them are worth a visit. Beyond this extensive programme, there are some other exhibitions not directly associated with the Biennale that deserve a mention. Liminal, Pierre Huyghe’s sophisticated solo show at Palazzo Grassi’s Punta della Dogana is one of them.

Huyghe is well-known for his immersive, large-scale installations, through which he expands on the entanglements between human and non-human beings, biology, and technology. By weaving together such contrasting components, the French artist creates ‘speculative fictions’, distorting alternate worlds that ultimately collapse into dystopia. The interiors of Punta della Dogana’s vast galleries are pitch black, inviting visitors to delve into an artificial realm of darkness in broad daylight.

The rather eerie ambience is not the only fictitious element in the show. Upon entering the first room, the installation Liminal (2024) depicts a faceless human whose female body appears to gravitate into the void. Like some other works on view, Liminal features an artificial intelligence capable of responding to its surroundings in real-time. Its sensory function is particularly driven by diverse stimuli, simulating the human condition in its most primary form. While this speculative exercise arouses the curiosity of visitors from the beginning, the exhibition gradually unfolds into something darker and more sinister: a dystopian future where humankind as we presently know it has vanished.

Pierre Huyghe, Liminal, 2024

A set of aquariums permeates the exhibition space, and each presents a different milieu, an isolated ecosystem that self-subsists. In Zoodram 6 (2013), a crab inhabits this fabricated world accompanied by a sculpture of a sleeping head, a replica of Brâncuși’s famous Sleeping Muse (1910). Here, the human and the non-human are connected by the peculiar landscape of an abandoned world. The hermit crab cannot help but use the sculpture as its sanctuary, emulating a place for respite amidst the empty vastness. Cambrian Explosion 19 (2013) includes a floating rock that seems to be levitating above an aquarium alongside two sea animals from a species that has persevered for more than 540 million years. These little creatures move swiftly through the sand, albeit oblivious to the giant rock on the verge of collapse.

Pierre Huyghe, Zoodram 6, 2013

Offspring (2018), two black boxes emanating theatre-like lights, radiates a poetic sensory experience. The fact that the lighting, sound, and movement of the objects are orchestrated by AI makes the experience even lonelier, provoking a true sense of unease that is incredibly hard to achieve in the scope of an installation piece. It is almost a film work, and the technology employed is not too far from that found in science fiction.

Pierre Huyghe, Offspring, 2018

Pierre Huyghe is not a new figure in the century-long Venetian art spectacle, having represented France at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. His work, however, continues to impress and move us, capturing the complex essence of our contemporary times.

Caroline Fucci for London Art Walk
May 2024