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Pierre Huyghe: Human Mask

By Mark Lewis

An examination of Pierre Huyghe’s post-apocalyptic Untitled (Human Mask), which asks whether our human future may be one of remnants and mimicry.

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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.

Praise For Pierre Huyghe: Untitled (Human Mask)

“A book on Pierre Huyghe’s Untitled (Human Mask) is reason alone to take note, but a book by filmmaker Mark Lewis on Huyghe’s strange and unsettling film is reason for celebration. This is one of those rare books when one filmmaker analyzes the work of another filmmaker, where the secret of the latter’s work is formalized in the former’s text and we learn as much about the recurrent tropes of one artist as the other. Its descriptive passages a model of close reading. In the end, we are confronted by a text on the cinematic that probes the pre-cinematic written from the perspective of a world teetering on the edge of existence and we confronted by a film that remains as frightening as it ever was.”

Shep Steiner
University of Manitoba

“This book is both a substantial contribution to one of Pierre Hugyhe’s most important works and an imaginative political meditation on a post-apocalyptic future. Lewis’s analysis runs through speculative fictions, philosophical dialogues with the likes of Donna Haraway, and the technical and poetic aspects of Huyghe’s work as a whole. His reading of Huyghe’s imagery takes in not only the history of art, but also our own present state of disaster.”

André Mesquita
Museu de Arte de São Paulo

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