Sunday, 22 March 2020

Pierre Huyghe - Untitled (Human Mask)

As I walked from home to my studio it was clear that this was no ordinary day. My journey had begun in Fenham, a multicultural neighbourhood popular with families and creatives. One of the reasons why I like living there is the amount of parkland and green space that is at my doorstep. It is around this time of year when these spaces become the hub of the community. Families and friends gather together with picnics or BBQ's to share food and enjoy the brighter weather. Groups of male youths turn the tennis courts into a cricket pitch, where they can be found day and night.  

Today there were people out and about, but rather than large gatherings or groups, families stuck together in 3's or 4's, and parents seemed more conscious than ever to ensure that their children remained easily within their eyesight, if not at their side. 

As I transitioned through this friendly neighbourhood and into the centre of Newcastle, the changes became more blatantly obvious. Crossing Barack Road could take a while if you caught the traffic lights at a bad time as the road was always busy, but today there were very few cars about, reducing my journey time by a couple of minutes. 

The Alan Shearer statue outside St Jame's Park usually attracted at least a couple of tourists who would be posing for a photo taken by a fellow football fanatic. Today Alan Shearer, arm up in the air, was celebrating his goal alone. 

The greasy fried chicken smell that normally polluted the area around Chicken Cottage, the source of the stench, was absent and the takeaway shop was closed, along with the many other eateries in the vicinity. The occasional cafe that did have lights on and doors open were advertising that they were operating on a take-away basis only. Queues for buses were vastly reduced, perhaps only a couple of people were waiting at the most popular stands by Monument Metro station. 

I couldn't take my short-cut through the shopping centre as the automatic doors were turned off, and most, if not all, of the clothes shops, book shops, and other non-food shops displayed CLOSED signs in their doors. I seem to have passed an equal amount of patrolling police officers as I did members of public, and they gave me a suspicious gaze as I walked past them with purpose, suggesting that I should not be on the street. It all felt extremely eerie and I was reminded of Untitled (Human Mask), a video by Pierre Huyghe that I recently saw at the BALTIC as part of their Animalesque exhibition. 

The press release reads

"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 instinct.

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."

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