Alternate worlds and end of days: Pierre Huyghe in Venice

Pierre Huyghe delves into dystopia with 'Liminal', at Palazzo Grassi’s Punta della Dogana in Venice

Pierre Huyghe artwork, Untitled (Human Mask), girl's face with ape-like arm touching face, from the Venice exhibition ‘Liminal’
(Image credit: Pinault Collection, courtesy of the artist; Hauser & Wirth, London; Anna Lena Films, Paris © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023)

Pierre Huyghe is famous for his explorations of slippages in reality, alternate worlds and end-of-days scenarios. His work in film, sculpture and installation is instantly recognisable in its darkness and its evasiveness. A featureless child searches for food in an abandoned landscape, a face glitches in a digital schism and shrinks away on a towering screen in near pitch blackness.

‘Liminal’, which opened in April, coinciding with the Venice Biennale 2024, at Palazzo Grassi’s Punta della Dogana, one of the Pinault Collection’s two locations in the city, explores Huyghe’s vision on a massive scale. Pitched into blackness on entering the exhibition, we are stumbling around – the floor has varying textures and the doorways are not fully visible. Something is flickering in the dim light, a small translucent creature emerges and there is a towering, huge screen with an AI video of a face, human or animal, slipping in and out of recognition.

Harnessing cutting-edge technology, ‘Liminal’ offers a de-centred experience of being, as you enter a world where everything is out of kilter. Laced with the motifs that evoke fear, we are liberated somehow. The dream space of ‘Liminal’ is out of body, but it also taps into some elements that transcend time, such as ritual. Some works are endless and beginningless, rejecting convention.


Pierre Huyghe Umwelt—Annlee, 2018-2024

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Esther Schipper, and TARO NASU© Kamitani Lab / Kyoto University and ATR © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 202)

‘An exhibition is the formation of an idea: its constitution here and now,’ Huyghe says. ‘An idea appears and manifests itself, sometimes implicitly. It can also constitute other ideas and specific subjectivities. As an image, it’s situated somewhere between the sensible and the intelligible. There’s a specific relationship to space and time that comes into play in its formation – the space is no longer that of the place of exhibition, but rather the transfer of another space and another time, which superimpose themselves onto this one.’

As you pass through the cavernous galleries of the Punta della Dogana, you are never sure how to get from one gallery to another. Crossing an open walkway a barely visible film of a still body plays; on descending the stairs, another film is playing in a larger space: negotiating this exhibition makes you feel liminal and displaced.

artwork of alternate world

Pierre Huyghe Camata, 2024

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Esther Schipper, and TARO NASU © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023)

‘You can choose to submit to a set of conditions without knowing in advance all the ins and outs, or to multiply these conditions,’ Huyghe states in the exhibition catalogue. ‘Then, you begin to create possibilities and forms of coexistence or recreated worlds: worlds made up of worlds. You can set up loopholes, uncertainties, zones of unknowing. In order to build these resistant traps, you have to invent tools that are outside of “yourself”, sensitive tools that will allow thought to always be beginning, always emerging.‘

Passing through yet more darkened corridors, the exhibition opens out into a room containing two hovering sets of spotlights, suspended about a metre off the floor. In Offspring, 2018, masked performers occasionally appear and move between the audience and around these hovering, glowing cubes. Next, we see huge fish tanks filled with suspended rocks, broken sculpture and sea anemones.

‘Fictions are vehicles that give us access to other possible and impossible worlds, to a counterfactual imagination. Such fictions – separated from the known, unconstrained by the here and now – are open to speculation, to other roads not taken. They make it possible to experience the impossible, to see ourselves from the outside.’

artwork of faceless nude woman

Pierre Huyghe. Liminal (temporary title), 2024 - ongoing.

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Esther Schipper, and TARO NASU © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023)

In one room a faceless Lynchian being sits, white against a black background, a vision of horror reminiscent of The Ring or Beowulf, a monumental human emergent, not fully manifest; they shift positions to a faint soundtrack.

The exhibition reaches its peak with a huge single-channel work showing a post-apocalyptic landscape. Slipping in and out of time, the scene changes, sometimes as though moments have passed, and at other times, centuries.

‘“Liminal” is a transitory state, from which something unthought-of can emerge. It’s an inexistent being, with neither self nor world, outside of any outside,‘ says Huyghe.

Pierre Huyghe, ‘Liminal’, until 24 November 2024 at Punta della Dogana, Venice

Amah-Rose Abrams is a British writer, editor and broadcaster covering arts and culture based in London. In her decade plus career she has covered and broken arts stories all over the world and has interviewed artists including Marina Abramovic, Nan Goldin, Ai Weiwei, Lubaina Himid and Herzog & de Meuron. She has also worked in content strategy and production.