Pierre Huyghe is one of the most prominent representatives of “relational aesthetics” — a tendency within contemporary art that fosters and shapes social interactions rather than producing finite artworks. Examples include the artist’s collaboration with colleagues to revivify a minor character from Japanese anime (No Ghost Just a Shell, 1999–2002) and his invention of a festival for a recently constructed cul-de-sac in suburban New York (Streamside Day Follies, 2003).
On view in Toronto for the first time since its acquisition by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt) daringly extends Huyghe’s long-term interests. On site near the Hearn, within a ruined landscape of concrete rubble, weeds and gravel, the artist has placed a statue of a reclining woman, an unremarkable object but for the beehive that entirely obscures its head.
Untilled again opens up the artwork to interaction, but one that is no longer limited to its human viewers — instead, a whole ecosystem is engaged, with the bee colony pollinating surrounding flora and extending the work beyond an anthropocentric definition of art.
As contemporary science recognizes animals to possess more and more of the capabilities formerly thought of as uniquely human, and as technology produces machines ever more able to mimic human thought and actions, we find ourselves questioning the boundaries between “live things and inanimate things, made and not made” — to quote Huyghe’s description of his materials for Untilled. This headless sculpture with its cloud of swarming bees is both an uncanny index of our shifting cultural landscape and an assertion of the remarkable beauty to be found in our new, strange world.