The Ice Rink and the Apocalypse

Bees, cancer cells, and the other-worldly landscapes of Pierre Huyghe.

Sometime in 2007 I read an article which noted that once every decade you can travel to Germany and Italy and see three of the greatest European art festivals all in the same trip. That's right, their schedules only align once every decade. In fact, you can't even see two of them in any intervening year. That same year, I decided that 2017 would be the year I would make this epic journey. I recently returned from that pilgrimage.

I expected an epic journey. But the quantity and quality of new art exceeded my expectations at every turn.  So I'm dedicating several entries in Art Lobster to recording thoughts, feelings, and images from the trip.  To start, I'm featuring a single work of art from the mind of Pierre Huyghe. Titled After Alife Ahead, the work was located in the first city stop on my journey, Münster, Germany for the decennial Skulptur Projecte 2017.

On the surface, this work is startling and unsettling.  It's location in an abandoned ice rink just behind a Burger King, away from the center of Münster in a more industrial area was enough to give the work an apocalyptic feel. that alone made the installation engaging. But Huyghe never stops at surface-level entertainments. This living, breathing landscape surprises over and over again.  A column of dirt houses a beehive. There are theoretically two peacocks involved in the installation but I wasn't able to spot them (although several pigeons had invaded the space). An aquarium made of black switchable glass contained crustaceans and fish. There are pools of murky water with growing algae. And the whole thing is somehow controlled by growing cancer cells.  That's right, growing cancer cells play an important role in triggering events that are part of the installation.  In fact, as their rate of growth changes, it affects the shapes that appear in the associated augmented reality app which you were instructed to download while waiting in line.  It was nice to have something to do as the lines, like most of the lines for limited entry works at Münster could be long.

Those are just a few of the layers of meaning and associations that were woven into this dark and enveloping work. After Alife Ahead and the ice rink it invaded were set for demolition on October 1.  So it's life (like many of Huyghe's works) was short.  But I won't forget it's emotional challenge anytime soon.

Creative director and art nerd contemplating travel, books, theater, and art.