For more than three decades, Pierre Huyghe has elided contemporary categories of art-making beyond the bounds of common syntax. Sculpture, performance, video, film, sound and land art become, in his hands, unpredictably permeable and unstable—a retort to what he once called ‘hysteric objects,’ a pursuit instead of a kind of art ‘somehow indifferent’ to the viewer. A reclining female nude concrete figure accommodates a hive of living bees in its head (‘Untitled (Liegender Frauenakt),’ 2012); an upstate New York community parade and summer gathering becomes a loosely scripted performance piece and film about human ritual and civic rites (‘Streamside Day Follies,’ 2003); glass-tanked aquatic environments inhabited by crabs and other sea life become what Huyghe has described as ‘non-illusionistic fiction,’ sculptural arenas for living elements to enact uncontrolled narratives within the parameters of constructed conditions (‘Zoodram’ works, 2009–13).
Two years ago, Huyghe was invited to consider creating an outdoor work within the environs of the Kistefos Museum’s sculpture park in Jevnaker, Norway, north of Oslo, on lush, rolling woodland near the Randselva River, once the site of a paper pulp mill. After some exploration of the area, he chose a portion of the museum’s site that had never before been a location of artwork, a small island that has now become the environment for Huyghe’s largest work to date, ‘Variants’—a word that has recently taken on new and ominous meaning. The work, a commingling of sculptural and digital elements, utilizes the land and the water that sometimes rises over it as the foundations for a loop in which nature and artificial intelligence systems feed into each other, creating what, over time, could come to function like a hacked ecosystem.
Huyghe sat down recently for a virtual discussion about the work and the ways in which ‘Variants’ has allowed him to delve deeper into several themes he has been exploring over the last decade. These are edited and condensed excerpts of the conversation.