The crystal method

With a charming French accent and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, Pierre Huyghe took center stage before a packed house at the University of Chicago’s Max Palevsky Cinema to apologetically admit that his film project “The Host and the Cloud” could not be shown as scheduled. He mentioned some legal setbacks–but of what sort, he made no mention. The expectant crowd greeted the news with befuddlement.

This was Huyghe’s second appearance at the UofC. In 2000, the Renaissance Society exhibited one of Huyghe’s first major installations in the United States. Since then, he has emerged as one of the hottest new figures on the conceptual art scene, with works appearing at the Venice Biennale and in the Tate Modern Gallery. And with a spot in the upcoming 2012 Documenta festival in Germany, Huyghe certainly has the accolades to be anything but reasonable.

Yet Huyghe happily adjusted the evening’s schedule to present photo stills of a few of his earlier works, hoping to translate the mood of his forbidden film into an ad hoc slideshow. With passion and enthusiasm, he beckoned the audience into his wildly transposable spaces of reality and fantasy. “There is a protocol of fiction embedded in any condition,” he explained, “and I wish to intensify the coefficient of that fiction, not so much to live in it, but to catch a moment, reinvent it, and create a crystal.”

But each of Huyghe’s crystals is part of a larger lattice system: each piece is interrelated with another, and art breeds more art. “L’expédition scintillante/A musical” is a three-act journey climbing the floors of a museum–passing by a tugboat made of ice (melting over time) to a display of colorful curls of smoke to a black ice-skating rink on the final level. This wild quest was the genesis of a frozen tundra-themed series of works, inspiring “A Journey That Wasn’t,” which involved reconstructing an Antarctic island in the middle of New York’s Central Park. Not content to simply build a model of the icy isle, Huyghe gathered geographic data from the actual landmass and translated them into musical notes, which were played by an orchestra on site.

While he couldn’t play the actual film, to the audience’s delight, Huyghe closed the show with a screening of a ten-minute “making-of” documentary of “The Host and the Cloud.” The video clip showed scenes in a Parisian museum unfolding uncontrolled: outrageous theatrics, pumpkin carvings, and a model solo on her runway.

“I simply put the conditions for narrative, an hypothèse, so that the narrative can happen,” he said, commenting on his role as the orchestrating artist. “I aim to produce a supplement of reality. I know that sounds a little bit pretentious, but well…” Here he cut off, embracing the laughter of the crowd before him.