Using time, memory, and the texture of everyday experience as his mediums, Pierre Huyghe conflates the traditional dichotomy between art and life. Working in an array of cultural formats—from billboards and television broadcasts to community celebrations and museum exhibitions—he reformulates their codes and deploys them as catalysts for creating new experiential possibilities. A mode of perception that lies in the interstices between reality and its representation is the subject of his two-channel video The Third Memory (2000), which reenacts the 1972 hold-up of a Brooklyn bank immortalized in Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed film Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Almost 30 years later, Huyghe provides a platform for the heist’s charismatic mastermind, John Wojtowicz, to relate his version of that infamous day in a reconstructed set of the bank. However, rather than clarify the personal history that Hollywood wrested from him, Wojtowicz appears to have been heavily influenced by the film, a testament to the inextricable merging of real events, the distortions of memory, and the mediating power of popular culture.
The tension between fact and fiction is also at play in One Million Kingdoms (2001), a work conceived as part of the collaborative project No Ghost Just a Shell, in which a manga character named Annlee is inserted into multiple artistic contexts. In Huyghe’s animation, this adolescent girl wanders through a shifting lunar topography and, speaking in a digitally synthesized form of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s voice, delivers a narration blending the actual transmissions from the Apollo 11 mission with excerpts from Jules Verne’s 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. Annlee appears as a translucent outline, an empty cipher for creative interpretation. Yet at the same time, she is literally the author of her own environment: the mutating features of the landscape through which she walks are generated by the inflections of her own voice.
Huyghe’s own experience provides the starting point for This is not a time for dreaming (2004). The film documents a puppet show that tells the parallel stories of the modernist architect Le Corbusier’s commission to design the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University, and Huyghe’s own commission to create an artwork to celebrate the building’s 40th anniversary. Shifting back and forth in time, the narrative weaves together historical and contemporary events with fantastical elements, in an allegorical representation of the struggles and compromises inherent in the creative process.