A potent reminder of our entanglement with nature | Rebecca Lewin

Ahead of the MICAS International Art Weekend, curator Rebecca Lewin of the Serpentine Galleries speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about displaying Pierre Huyghe’s iconic sculpture ‘‘Exomind (Deep Water)’’ at Buskett Gardens – a striking work that addresses the urgent realities of our connection with the natural environment in the era of climate change

Rebecca Lewin
Rebecca Lewin

What do you believe to be the most powerful take-away message and impression from Pierre Huyghe’s ‘Exomind’, and how do you hope Maltese audiences will respond to it?

The central gesture of this work is to place a figurative sculpture in a site that can be accessed by the public. This act is something that humans have been doing for millenia – consider the extraordinary ancient sculptures discovered around Malta – and I hope that Maltese audiences will draw on the familiarity of this encounter as a starting point.

What is more surprising is the obscuring of the figure’s head by a bee hive, populated by bees and full of honey produced by bees that are pollinating plants in the vicinity of the sculpture. When we look at Exomind (Deep Water), we are considering two cultures: the human visual culture that has produced the sculpture; and the community of bees that has built the hive. It’s no longer possible to separate ‘human’ from ‘nature’, and perhaps the most urgent message of this work is how deeply embedded within our environment we are, and how entangled within the millions of systems that organise it.

Pierre Huyghe
Pierre Huyghe

Would you say Exomind is a ‘universal’ piece, despite being – by its very nature – site-specific to wherever it is placed? How do you configure and describe this dynamic, as a curator?

Exomind (Deep Water) is typical of Huyghe’s practice, and is the kind of work that presents interesting and unusual challenges for curators.

The etymology of the word ‘curator’ is ‘one who cares for’, and within the sealed gallery space, this has come to mean someone who prevents the artwork from changing its state. A work like this, on the other hand, requires the curator to allow for change, growth, even decay. Like the artist, we have to be prepared for change, and respond to it as it occurs. We can no longer remain invisible, but rather have to become part of a community that cares for the sites and living entities that Huyghe brings together.

Although the details of the piece may be impossible to replicate from site to site, the network of people and things that it draws into its orbit is created anew each time it is installed.

How would you describe the Serpentine Galleries’ relationship with Pierre Huyghe, and what is it about his work that you find particularly germane to the mission and vision of your space?

Our relationship with Huyghe goes back many years, most recently through the development of our exhibition with him, and further through projects that he developed with our Artistic Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist. Huyghe’s exhibition at the Serpentine in 2018 formed part of a thread of programming that we have developed in the last few years, which has been inspired by the aims of artists such as John Latham, Barbara Steveni and the Artist Placement Group (APG) and Billy Klüver and Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT).

At the Serpentine, this has been adopted as (N)EAT – new experiments in art and technology – that seeks to reconnect artists with innovations in science, engineering, technology and industry, enable exchanges and encourage mutual influence and inspiration. From the translation of paintings by Zaha Hadid into Virtual Reality spaces and the interactive experiences of Ian Cheng’s Artificial Intelligence BOB, Huyghe’s exhibition has been followed since by experiments such as the Augmented Reality App developed by Hito Steyerl, Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s AR walk through Kensington Gardens and Cao Fei’s Mixed Reality experience (forthcoming in 2020).

Exomind, 2017. Concrete cast with wax hive, bee colony, orange tree (Daidai), plum tree (Tobiume descendant), plants, sand, stones, calico cat, ants, spider, butterfly, concrete pond with waterlilies (Giverny descendants), axolotl and insects. Photo credit: Ichikawa and Kei Maeda. Courtesy of the artist; Taro Nasu, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Exomind, 2017. Concrete cast with wax hive, bee colony, orange tree (Daidai), plum tree (Tobiume descendant), plants, sand, stones, calico cat, ants, spider, butterfly, concrete pond with waterlilies (Giverny descendants), axolotl and insects. Photo credit: Ichikawa and Kei Maeda. Courtesy of the artist; Taro Nasu, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

The accompanying art talks organised by MICAS and the Serpentine Galleries, to take place within the orbit of Exomind’s journey to Malta, are another interesting strand of this whole experience. Could you tell us a little bit about what we can expect from them?  

The variety of research, knowledge and expertise represented by the panel of speakers, from philosophy to law to science, is representative not only of Huyghe’s wide-reaching approach to the development of his own projects, but also of the Serpentine’s approach to programming.

We, like MICAS, believe that arts organisations should be sites of communication, bringing together diverse ways of looking at the world, to spark interest, curiosity and debate. Huyghe’s work Exomind (Deep Water) sparks so many questions – where does intelligence reside? How can we rethink our relationship to our environments? – and we wanted to take this opportunity to consider these questions in the company of experts in many different fields.

The Serpentine Galleries, London
The Serpentine Galleries, London

Finally, how do you feel about your collaboration with MICAS, and what are your impressions of this ambitious venue-to-be?

It has been a great pleasure to be able to work with Huyghe on more than one project, and to have the opportunity to discuss his ideas in a public setting this October.

The Serpentine works with many different foundations and organisations internationally, but it is particularly exciting to be able to watch another organisation grow from its inception to completion. MICAS’ aims, to provide a platform for international contemporary art, and to raise public awareness of the significance of visual art in contemporary life, are aligned with the Serpentine’s goals, so we look forward to being able to visit the MICAS building when it is complete, and to follow its programme as it develops in the future.

Pierre Huyghe’s Exomind (Deep Water) exhibition and the MICAS Art Talks form part of the MICAS International Art Weekend (October 12 and 13).

For more information, log on to: micas.art

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