It’s been six months since Pierre Huyghe, a retrospective of the French artist, closed at LACMA. But the thing about having living elements in a gallery is that their lives continue after the show.
In Pierre Huyghe, I was one of the announcers, shouting patrons’ names into the seemingly empty gallery as they entered. I reunited with Human the dog and her handlers, Marlon Middeke and Andre Hoffman, this September in their hometown of Kassel, Germany. Marlon invited me to perform and exhibit some of my work at the opening of his new gallery, I AM ART, a reflection on two years traveling with his famous dog for the Huyghe show and much more.
I arrived in time to help build the gallery walls. After Huyghe, Middeke built scaffolding covered in fragile paperboard inside the gallery, re-creating the space within the space. Inside, a progression of photographs give way to artifacts, mostly seeds, and a video that plays periodically. In the back, in an undisguised back room that mirrors the ‘backstage’ of each gallery where Middeke and Human performed, I sit writing poetry at the show’s opening on a German typewriter.
People give me a theme and I write them a poem. In a perversion of the Announcer piece, I make the patrons sign the work I make for them and leave it in the gallery. Who is the author of each piece? Who has ownership of the artwork, the experience? It’s their topic, their signature, but my words in English. I write for an hour or two, and then Hoffman takes over, then other friends, a revolving door of authors denying ownership of their work.
Middeke shows visitors around with a flashlight. We ply everyone with fresh fruit from a garden. I do a small Butoh performance, while painted white.
The space created by the walls seems at once minimalist and cluttered. Behind the walls are colored lights that change through the night, transforming the atmosphere of the room. When the video is on, the gallery lights go out, making it nearly impossible to see the artwork without the dim flashlight. Middike is worried that the lights create too much of a nightclub atmosphere. He gets over it, and after the opening we all go to York, a sketchy nightclub known for 17-year-old patrons.
Back in the gallery, after each time the video plays, an announcement blares, repeating and distorting:
“ARE WE THE TRUE MASTERS OF OURSELVES?”
Middeke takes mastery of himself back after years of being, quite literally, just a piece of Huyghe’s art. The irony of the piece’s title, I AM ART, is that, in creating a gallery, Middeke is not literally the art object on display, for the first time in years. But when is he ‘art’ more? When his physical presence is the artwork at bastions of art like LACMA and Centre Georges Pompidou, or when everything in a little gallery in central Germany comes from his mind?
At LACMA, when Huyghe closed, we got in trouble for bringing champagne and cake into the gallery. Here my whole experience is a never-ending cycle of smoking and drinking, inside and outside, as the work is being made and as it opens. In a walkable European city, friends and patrons breeze in off the street to see the new attraction in every phase.
And what about the dog?
A local TV station interviewed Middeke about his opening. Their main questions were about Human the dog.
“Human isn’t part of this exhibition,” he said. “She is Huyghe’s art, but Midekke’s dog.”
The interviewer conferred with the station. Never mind, they said, they didn’t need the interview after all.
So, this is I AM ART, and this is the artist. Being upstaged by his own famous dog, which, for now, is more ‘art’ than any of us.