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In a fantastic interview by Emili Manzano with Santiago Auserón, the singer from Radio Futura recounted his time spent at the University of Vinçennes in 1977 attending the classes of Gilles Deleuze. In it he remembers getting up early so as to find a seat, the smoke, the throng of people, the expectation, Deleuze’s gestures, the electric, rapid thinking… And, a poster at the end of the classroom that warned about pickpockets, to which someone had added in marker pen: “watch out for the concept thieves”. A very ‘Frenchy’ detail, according to Auserón.
This could be a good definition of ‘Frenchy’: more than the irony, the sarcasm, or also the snide remark that can’t avoid marking an intellectual distance with regard to a real phenomenon, or even more literally, the marker on the wall, somewhat décontracté, unkempt, a touch grotty, seemingly unintentional but making its intention clear; and, of course, the smoke, the throng and the gesture.
For all of this the large retrospective exhibition of Pierre Huyghe at the Centre Pompidou to me seems very ‘Frenchy’. The marker pen alerting to the concept is here the lack of mise en scene, as the exhibition has been set up directly on top of the remnants of the previous exhibition of Mike Kelley. Even here, this “Frenchy” touch, as some of the posters have been left lying around. There is of course an intention, albeit dissimulated, slightly tangential. There is also the gesture, the most evident of which is the elegant and emaciated white dog with a pink paw that roams around the rooms; and also the bees or ants that come out of small holes in the wall. And there is a concept. Though it’s not clarified nor explained, so the exhibition seems like a journey through multiple anecdotal chapters, through the videos and projects that Pierre Huyghe has made over the last 20 years and which have converted him into the paragon of his generation, taking over from Sophie Calle and company.
There are the projects in the United States of which one has to know something beforehand in order to discern exactly what this interruption of the real consisted in that provoked a festive celebration invented by the artist in a remote village. There is the project from the last Documenta, the aforementioned dog, and a video that records the process of life in a park in Kassel. And there, hidden, as if almost nothing, is the famous project of Ang Lee. But, what amongst the ‘Frenchy’ things is missing from those things that according to Auserón were in Deleuze’s class? Smoke? There’s no smoke but it does rain and snow inside the space, recomposing an accelerated life cycle. Throngs of people? That there are. A by no means ‘Frenchy’ friend commented to me that the exhibition is an authentic phenomenon and that young people go to spend the day there…One thing’s for sure, on a Wednesday morning it was full of people, a lot of young people, who weren’t exactly visiting the exhibition.
Because there is something, somewhat hypnotic, seductive, enrapturing, a sort of atmosphere that makes the exhibition of Pierre Huyghe something special. The great thing here is that: amidst an exhibition that takes advantage of the set up of another (so reminiscent of those initial intentions of the Palais de Tokyo, the desire to do away with false walls and specific montages, taking advantage of what there was), without any clues or help with which to read the works, the videos and the projects by Pierre Huyghe can seem like a sum of cryptic anecdotes. But they exercise a fascination that impels one to question, to seek out, to continue looking and encounter smiles of complicity when, in the middle of a room, life suddenly appears, albeit in the form of a dog that is mere skin and bone, scratching away at its fleas.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)