Pierre Huyghe

I Do Not Own Modern Times, 2006

neon letters

Dimensions Variable


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photo credit: def image, Berlin

Artwork
Description

One of a series of 7 pieces entitled ‘Disclaimers’, this installation is constructed from white neon light tubes formed into letters. Huyghe takes as his subject the often disregarded and wholly unglamorous concept of the ‘disclaimer’ and transforms it into an elegant sculpture used as a tool to question notions of artistic ownership and copyright. Huyghe has said of his work that “The sentences are disclaimers, which are a juridical form that allows someone to put in circulation, or to expand, something that he does not own.”

Modern Times is a Charlie Chaplin movie from 1936 where Chaplin’s iconic ‘Little Tramp’ character struggles to assimilate into the modern age of machinery and industry. Huyghe aired the film some years before the creation of his sculpture in a manner that infringed the film’s copyright. The themes of alienation and disenchantment from the industrial age that feature in Chaplin’s film resonate in the present, with the precise ‘modern times’ referred to in the installation ostensibly unclear. There is a duality of meaning in the statement I Do Not Own Modern Times: the artist is declaring both that he does not own the Charlie Chaplin film, but also denying ownership of modern times themselves.

The very denial of the objects makes them present-the sculptures state an absence, and in so doing they make manifest a concept. Huyghe makes sculptures that are ‘reminders’ and so through absence creates presence.

The rest of the series has also dealt with the artist’s interest in ambiguities of possession and title. Huyghe rescored John Cage’s 4’33” for the flute, a composition that through its silence is in itself an expression of absence, and then went on to create I Do Not Own 4’33”. His work I Do Not Own Tate Modern was caught somewhere between the truth and a lie- at the time the artist was occupying half of a floor of Tate Modern. He did not own it, and yet the space effectively belonged to him, if only momentarily.

This particular work was previously exhibited in 2006 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and also at Tate Modern throughout the summer of 2007 in an exhibition which included other works of his from the same series.

About
the artist

Pierre Huyghe (b. 1962) was born in Paris, France. He studied at École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris from 1982 to 1985. Since graduating he has been exhibited at numerous international establishments, including a recent retrospective that toured galleries of the world, starting at the Pompidou Centre (Paris). He has also won several awards including the Roswitha Haftmann Prize in 2013 and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Contemporary Artist Award in 2010.

Pierre Huyghe is a multi-disciplinary artist whose art is centred upon the importance of the image as a semiotic device. All images are interrelated, and it is this dynamic which facilitates an exploration of audience expectations by creating works which must be viewed as part of a whole. Much of his practice focuses upon our innate ability to create, as symbolised by the construction sites present in some of his works. Huyghe presents his audience with a portrait of society as being a palimpsestic entity, upon which each generation leaves its mark. The individuals who make up these societies appear in his work as being divided: they are unique and a part of society. This is mirrored by the function of his works as each being an individuated entity that can be interpreted singularly, but whose full meaning is only truly unearthed within the context of the exhibition in which it belongs. Huyghe’s work can thus be viewed as essentialist; everything has to exist as part of a unity and cannot exist in isolation as it is the structure the object is tied to that gives it the necessary attributes and identity. This can be applied not only to his works, but in a broader sense to all images.

In this way the artist’s oeuvre becomes an exploration of freedom and the individual’s ambition towards it. The human form itself also plays an important role in Huyghe’s work and reflects the viewer’s presence within this system of meanings and relations. There is a propensity towards the animation of objects as exemplified by the inclusion of aquaria in some of his installations. These can be filled with life, which appear to be separated from the viewer, but is still essentially tied to the whole via that which is outside the aquarium. Furthermore, these are fashioned from electrochromatic glass, which at one moment allows the audience to see what is within before suddenly becoming obscured. This suggests the inability to understand through mere perception alone and that meaning can only be divulged by a system of semiotic understanding.


Pierre Huyghe is a multi-disciplinary artist whose art is centred upon the importance of the image as a semiotic device. All images are interrelated, and it is this dynamic which facilitates an exploration of audience expectations by creating works which must be viewed as part of a whole. Much of his practice focuses upon our innate ability to create, as symbolised by the construction sites present in some of his works.

There is a propensity towards the animation of objects as exemplified by the inclusion of aquaria in some of his installations. These can be filled with life, which appear to be separated from the viewer, but is still essentially tied to the whole via that which is outside the aquarium. Furthermore, these are fashioned from electrochromatic glass, which at one moment allows the audience to see what is within before suddenly becoming obscured.


Pierre Huyghe
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition