Airport, please! the LRFA blog heads to Norway, to Pierre Huyghe’s mysterious installation at Kistofos

by leslierankowfinearts

Pierre Huyghe
Second Law
Kistefos, Norway
Pierre Huyghe, Second Law, 2021. Scanned forest, real-time simulation, generative mutations and sounds, intelligent camera, environmental sensors, animals, plants, micro-organisms and materialized mutations: synthetic and biological material aggregate © Pierre Huyghe. Courtesy of the artist; Hauser & Wirth, London; Kistefos. 3D


‘Second Law’ has emerged and will be on view at Kistefos museum this coming summer. ‘Second Law’ is an entity, a milieu, both physical and digital, permeable, continuously shaped by flood waters and modified by what it perceives. It is simultaneously an island and the possibility of what this island could be under alternate conditions of reality. As the world changes according to the mutations of covid, it is fascinating to follow this highly intelligent artist/scientist into a world of his creation. The LRFA blog flies to Oslo, Norway to the forest of Kistefos to see his predictions of our brave new world. Please join me.

The entire site has been scanned, down to its details, and digitized. In the simulated environment, unbound from physical limitations, algorithmic and biological agents intelligences cooperate. A fiction based set of rules is played out by learning machines that continually generate mutations of existing features, such as trees, trash, animals or humans. The mutations change behaviours in real time according to external factors, accelerating their growth with the flood water, and transforming over the years. At times they randomly exit the simulation to manifest themselves physically on the actual island. They sustain or decompose, modifying the island’s appearance and progressively contaminate the existing reality with another possibility of itself. At the far end of the forest stands a screen where an autonomous eye navigates the simulated environment, witnessing its ever-changing nature.


Kistefos is located one hour north-west of Oslo. There are two entrances to the park with parking on both sides. People with reduced mobility are asked to arrive from Entrance South.




Pierre Huyghe, De-extinction, , Film, 19 min, 2014

It is an aquarium. It is an artwork. It is an aquarium. It is an artwork. It is an aquarium inside an artwork. It is an artwork inside an artwork. It is a “creation” in the true sense of the word.

Pierre Huyghe’s aquariums in Hauser & Wirth (13 September – 1 November 2014, London) are live ecosystems enclosed by the artist in glass cubes. Huyghe has installed aquariums, among other places, at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York in 2011 and more recently, in 2013, at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Since 2005, he has been interested in biology and organism self-development, like in 2008, when he transformed, for a 24-hour period, the Sydney Opera House into a fog-filled arboretum, or in 2010, when he planted a calendar’s worth of flora in Madrid’s Crystal Palace for Reina Sofia, representing different seasons and holidays throughout the year and then letting them battle for ground rights. He stood out in dOCUMENTA XIII (Kassel, 2012), remarking his interest with “presence”, composing in a park an installation that included a real painted dog, a beehive-headed sculpture (with bees, of course), marijuana and poisonous fruits, left to their destiny without any control.

Pierre Huyghe Nympheas Transplant

The biotopes[1] of IN. BORDER. DEEP at Hauser & Wirth, despite their life-independence, have a narrative within. They have been, in fact, transplanted from Monet’s ponds in his garden in Giverny, the one represented in his famous “Nymphéas” paintings. Fabulously, Huyghe’s research went deep into the origin of his living organisms, so that the lighting sequence in the vitrines is programmed according to the variations of the weather in Giverny (speeded and alternated) during the shortest day in 1914, the autumn of 1917 and the entire period from 1914 and 1918, when Monet was there. The audience is witness of events suspended in time. Are the ecosystems mirrors of the past or are they developing in an uncertain future?


It’s always interesting to see how an artist’s ideas can fall flat in one medium but resound in another. Whether due to an uneven mastery of craft or to the particular nature of his efforts of late, French artist Pierre Huyghe is having just this kind of moment with two works recently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pierre Huyghe                       Untitled (human mask)

Huyghe has long investigated the ways in which nature and humanity both consort with and conspire against one another, and his latest projects — a video and a rooftop installation — are no exception. The difference is that one of these works is terrifically compelling, while the other isn’t in the slightest.

Huyghe shot his video Untitled (Human Mask) in Fukushima, Japan, in 2014, three years after a tsunami touched off the world’s largest nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl. The piece opens with images of the city’s gutted buildings and decimated streets, then quickly cuts to the quiet of an abandoned sake house where we observe a solitary monkey, masked, wigged, and dressed to look like a young girl. For nearly nineteen minutes, we watch the primate sitting, waiting, pacing the confined, creepy space, our eye continually redirected to the visual disruptions between animal body and human costume.

Huyghe isn’t rethinking audience pathos and the performing animal. This isn’t Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar — or even Hollywood’s Doctor Dolittle — but the work’s twisted achievement is the way in which it undermines the emotional expressiveness audiences typically project onto cine-creatures. The monkey’s expressionless white mask and prim uniform disconnect a viewer somewhat from the depressing spectacle of her domestication. Is she happy? Is she sad? Who can tell? Huyghe doesn’t seem at all interested in probing the depths of human barbarity in this case. Rather, his camera remains shortsighted, enamored only with the monkey’s uncanny presence.

If catastrophe teaches one lesson, it’s that time is never on our side. Although the moving image has always shadowboxed this inevitable blow, Huyghe unfortunately taps none of the power of video to develop his ideas and images via their duration. What Untitled (Human Mask) ultimately reveals is standard-issue art world trauma laundering — an act of apocalypse chic. He reduces the whole of the Fukushima disaster to a few short establishing shots, adrenalized by a twitchy editing style and a fashionably cacophonous soundtrack: a soupçon of atrocity tourism to whet a viewer’s palate with the illusion of gravitas

Pierre Huyghe at the Met
Installation, February 11,2022

By contrast, Huyghe’s smart, subtle installation on the Met’s rooftop garden is nothing if not alert to time as the great coconspirator. Here he plays at excavating the primal landscape of the island of Manhattan, removing certain of the Met’s heavy granite roof tiles to create miniature topographies of native stones, thin streams of water, and sprouts of indigenous plants. A sizable piece of schist sits at one end of the roof, while a chunk of lava floats in an aquarium at the other. Swimming inside the tank are a lamprey eel and a few tadpole shrimp, ancient creatures unchanged by evolution’s push forward.

The tank drips into the artist’s manmade landscapes, watering the flora that’s doomed to be pulled sooner or later from its temporary place. Artificial ecosystems always manage to serve as unsettling metaphors for “growth to nowhere,” and this may be Huyghe’s sharpest move of all.

Look up and west from the museum’s roof to gaze over the treetops of Central Park. To the east you’ll see a grand apartment building encased in scaffolding, its restoration under way. To the south, behold the gross overgrowth of the midtown skyline, now dominated by 432 Park Avenue, a Kafkaesque malignancy that promises New Yorkers “the grand experience of estate living — in the sky.” For the moment it’s the tallest building in the neighborhood, but will soon be bested by two others concurrently going up along the same corridor.

This too, you may remind yourself as you look from Huyghe’s weird and witty return to Eden, is all just future rubble.

Met installation
Pierre Huyghe

As we create new worlds, new habits and new ecosystems, post-pandemic, Pierre Huyghe’s haunting installations open the door to a multitude of possibilities.