Pierre Huyghe’s 19-minute film Untitled (Human Mask) opens with drone shots of a Japanese town, wracked by a well-known triple devastation of earthquake, tsunami, nuclear plant meltdown. The context is specific, yet curiously expansive – an atmosphere for troubled times. Are we witnessing the end of the Capitalocene? The emergence of an environmental uncanny? No one remains to guide us but a cat, a cockroach, some larvae and a monkey in a human mask.
With infinite curiosity, filmmaker Mark Lewis, Huyghe’s contemporary, gives us a tour through the experience – the pleasures and frustrations – of Untitled (Human Mask). Weaving close reading, free association, history, philosophy and theory, Lewis thinks along with this captivating film to explore questions of creativity, time, apocalypse and humanity. If the apocalypse itself is a revelation of disclosure of great knowledge, the book is an attempt to draw knowledge from that moment’s chaotic aesthetics. the result is an essay as alive to racial politics, digital culture and the fragility of ownerships as it is embedded in a history of cinema, painting and the moving image. Huyghe’s mesmerising poetics, Lewis argues, remind us both of human history’s radical transformations, and the ongoing possibility of imagining other worlds.