Pierre Huyghe’s video Untitled (Human Mask) (2014) opens with footage from the nuclear
disaster area of Fukushima following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The city is utterly
ruined, its houses pushed away from their foundations and its streets empty of life.
An unmanned drone camera takes us into a restaurant that initially seems abandoned, but in a
dimly lit room we come across a monkey that has been trained to act as a waiter. We look on
in wonder as we follow the animal’s restless movements inside the empty restaurant, moving
back and forth between the filthy kitchen and the dark dining space. Apart from some
cockroaches scuttling across the floor and a single cat, the monkey appears to be the sole
survivor of the disaster.
Like an automaton, the monkey continues to carry out the routines that its training has
instilled in it. Without any patrons to serve, those actions form a pointless pattern of
repetition and variation. The animal is trapped inside a re-enactment of human activity –
sometimes inoperative, endlessly waiting, subject to boredom, left between instruction and
With the dystopian setting of Untitled (Human Mask) Pierre Huyghe points to the impact that
human activity has on nature. Perhaps the work reflects our present-day Anthropocene era; a
time when mankind has become a force that changes the planet, affecting its ecosystems.
Huyghe’s work shows us an apocalyptic world in which humanity has been eradicated, with
the monkey’s lingering training the only relic of human civilisation.
Untitled (Human Mask) captures a number of significant themes in Pierre Huyghe’s body of
work: the enigmatic and uncanny situations found in the film suggest a collapse of biological
and cultural distinctions.
ABOUT PIERRE HUYGHE
Pierre Huyghe is one of the most important contemporary artists of our age. His works blur the
boundaries of established contrasts: the living and the lifeless, the real and the symbolic;
animal, man and machine.
Since the early 1990s Huyghe has worked with the exhibition format as a mode of
presentation, challenging its conventional forms and setups. Like a choreographer of art he
compiles and conceives his works as a dynamic whole that exists and changes independently
of our presence – like an autonomous organism.
Pierre Huyghe was born in Paris in 1962, now lives and works in New York and Chile.
He has presented countless solo exhibitions, including at MoMA, New York; The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York; LACMA, Los Angeles; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Tate
Modern, London; and Ludwig Museum, Cologne.