Pierre Huyghe's "Untitled (Human Mask)" and Gabriel Martinez "Mountain War Time" (March 18–May 28, 2017)

Human Mask is a bachelor rite.

A monkey wearing a mask of a young woman, trained as a servant; unconscious actor of a human labor and a drone; unmanned camera, programmed to perform tasks, inhabit the same landscape of Fukushima, just after the natural and technological disaster.

The monkey, left alone, executes, as an automaton, the gesture it had been trained to do, in a pointless pattern of repetition and variation.

Trapped inside a human representation, it became its sole mediator.

Sometimes enacting the role of a servant, sometimes inoperative, endlessly waiting, subject to boredom, left between instruction and instinct.

Behind the mask, a descendant of a common ancestor, in front of it a drone, a human’s natural extension. Human Mask suggests a collapse between both biological and cultural distinctions.

– Pierre Huyghe

Pierre Huyghe is renowned for making art that challenges the conventions of the exhibition, exploring the possibilities of its dynamic experience. In the artist’s words, he constructs “time-based situations as a set of circumstances and conditions in which emergence, rhythm and variable are indeterminate and exist beyond our presence.” This exhibition is the New England premiere of his recent film Untitled (Human Mask) (2014). Set in the landscape of manmade devastation that surrounds Fukushima, Japan, the film confronts us with an eerie reflection of the tenuous divisions between human and animal.

The enigmatic moments of the film may be afterimages of the Anthropocene – the proposed name for our ecological age where humankind has become a force that permanently changes the planet. Poignantly confronting the sublime scale of nuclear cataclysm, the human-animal behaviors convey apocalyptic or perhaps redemptive overtones. Are the animal’s gestures the last remaining relics of chauvinism or of human civilization in general — bellwethers of a shift away from the anthropocentrism and disparities that haunt our world?

About the artist
Born in Paris, Pierre Huyghe lives and works in New York. He has received major solo presentations at numerous institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ludwig Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, Tate Modern, Dia Center for the Arts, Van Abbemuseum, and the Renaissance Society. He has also been included in numerous international biennials including the 7th & 14th Istanbul Biennials, the 2008 Sydney Biennial, the 47th, 48th, 49th , 50th, & 52nd Venice Biennales, the Liverpool Biennial, São Paulo Biennial, Whitney Biennial, MANIFESTA 2 & 11, and DOCUMENTA 11 & 13.

A series of x-rays. Bright white spots record exposure of the film to pieces of trinitite by Gabriel Martinez. Named after “Trinity” — the site of the first atomic weapon detonation in 1945 near Alamogordo, New Mexico — trinitite is created when an atomic bomb explodes over gypsum sands, fusing the granules into a radioactive glass. Gabriel Martinez’s grandmother collected the trinitite after the blast.

The images reference a mysterious series of spots that appeared in batches of x-rays in 1945. It was later discovered that radioactive fallout from nuclear test on July 16 had entered the water system in Ohio. This water supplied the paper mill that provided pulp for cardboard boxes of x-ray film made by Eastman Kodak. The spots on the x-rays became an accidental record of the scale of the fallout zone of the first nuclear test.

Accompanying the x-ray images, a video by Martinez presents the childhood recollections of Henry Herrera — one of the few civilians who witnessed the explosion and the mushroom cloud of the “Trinity” bomb. Henry is a “Downwinder.” The name refers to someone who lived under the fallout clouds of test detonations of atomic bombs. Henry is one of the few remaining members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders. The film concludes with Henry playing his guitar — upbeat motifs belie the truth that he plays this song at funerals for members of the Downwinder community.

With support from the Brown Arts Initiative

Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace, San Antonio.

About the artist
Born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Gabriel Martinez works with and within communities, often revealing difficult and hidden histories of conflict and social injustice. Having called many places home — with significant periods in Washington, D.C. and New York — Martinez is now based in Houston, Texas where he has been an artist-in-residence at Project Row Houses, a CORE Fellow at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and where he now leads the experimental art space Alabama Song near the Museum District.