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July 07, 2006

After seeing Pierre Huyghe's Celebration Park at Tate Modern, Jane Kelly is persuaded that the British do artistic fraud rather better than the French: Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park at Tate Modern

Posted by Jane Kelly

Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park
Tate Modern, London
5th July - 17th September 2006
Sunday - Thursday 10am - 6pm (last admission 5.15pm)
Friday & Saturday 10am - 10pm (last admission 9.15pm)

We are in Celebration Park, a large low ceilinged room at Tate Modern, where gigantic white doors glide slowly by on enormous twisted runners. You have to be careful not to get hit by one as they move silently past. The brochure describing the event calls this a:

fluid space of celebration and ritual, collective experience and play. As befits a park, it should be approached in a spirit of adventure and exploration.
Emma Dexter, the curator - a rather unnerving Cherie Blair look-a-like - says:
Pierre Huyghe's work is about both a celebratory and a participatory experience. It is about new ways of walking through a gallery.
I can see that with the giant doors, the French artist is possibly referring to Alice in Wonderland.

I reach up for a moment to touch one of the giant, shiny door knobs as it goes past.

Don't touch the exhibits!
screams the East European voice of an attendant down my ear. Errm, I thought I was in a "park" and this was about participation? Emma changes her tune. She says:
Pierre is doing a public performance here tomorrow night, but if you are a member of the public, no.
Keep off and don't touch in other words. A few moments later I was ticked off for having a drink of mineral water, and again when my phone went off. It seemed very like walking through any other gallery to me, if not rather stricter, as they seemed to be numerous hawk eyed attendants dotted about the "park".

It was a very odd looking park, apart from being full of uniformed police stopping you drinking water, the walls were bare except for gnomic messages in white neon light, such as
I do not own modern times

I do not own Tate Modern or the Death Star

against a background of squeaking and grinding hydraulic equipment. Emma says:
The theme is about challenging notions of authorship and intellectual property. Around you, you see constant disclaimers, the lights say "I do not own this."

Tate Modern being a public institution and the "Death Star" deriving from Star Wars, aka owned by Hollywood. It is the extension of a narrative started by someone else.

For Hollywood read big corporations, read America. I twigged, this was all about the politics of ownership, that old Marxist chestnut which emerged from the University of Paris about thirty years ago, and was one of the notions behind post-modernism.

Just as in the early 19th century Proudhon made his famous dictum that all property is theft, in the late 20th this evolved to take in all owned objects. Ownership is colonisation. The moving doors signify access to a territory. The small videos embedded in the wooden walls were offshoots of this theme.

Huyghe had been far and wide picking up images and challenging their ownership. A small video showed the face of a Japanese Manga, or comic book character. In 1999 Huyghe and a friend bought the rights to her face, in 2002 they "presented" her to other artist for use in other projects, then they finally held a "funeral" for her in Miami with fireworks, presumably celebrating the freedom of a fictional character from the chains of capitalism.

A small video which Emma relished as "self-referential", as it is an earlier work by the artist, showed Lucie Dolene, a fat old lady singing badly a song she once sang in the French version of Snow White in 1962. Apparently Disney stole her voice and swindled her out of a proper fee. She sued and won her case. The evil Disney corporation is a popular motif with French Marxists, and every other kind of Marxist for that matter.

I felt sorry for the old lady but couldn't help remembering that the singer Peggy Lee had a similar problem, sued, and also won her case. To me these two cases suggest that the rule of law in Europe and the US is still quite good at protecting people from greedy capitalists, but I do not think that is the view taken by the artist. Never mind, this is a park, not a place for serious considerations.

There is something particularly French and particularly silly about the show, perhaps because of its pretentiousness without irony. Emma leads us into a dark room with an exhibit entitled This is not a time for dreaming. "Made" as contemporary artists always say, in 2006, it describes what Huyghe did when he was invited to the US to create something to celebrate Le Corbusier's commission to design the Carpenter Centre at Harvard in 1959.

So "self-referential" if not incestuous this, it almost scrambles the brain, and apparently Huyghe was rather stumped. Eventually he came up with a puppet show on the theme of how the architect's vision is always compromised by the needs of practical engineering and finance. The Dean of Harvard is represented as an evil preying mantis. Surely one to try out on the kiddies next Christmas.

Huyghe is 44 but he has the politics of a teenager and the daftness increases as we go on to A journey that wasn't. This describes how last year, he discovered a rock in Antarctica, north of Smigger Island, which he has bought and named "the island of idleness".

Emma explained that this brings together Huyghe's ideas on

geography and culture and time.
He believes that time itself has been colonised, and he wants to free it so that it is no longer defined in terms of capital or labour. He wants us to create a "third" time which we truly own as individuals.

This exhibit also signifies our "yearning for the wild," a slight cliché I would say, compounded by the crashing, ice breaking music in the background representing the polar region. However, there is an animatronic penguin which is worth a visit. Don't let it talk though as it turns out to be a boring polemicist who only says "one", to signal its uniqueness and freedom from colonisation.

In the final "space", as contemporary artists always say, called One Year Celebration, he has invited other artists to propose "anti-days" of celebration, written on scrolls of paper.

As the artist believes that the year itself has been illegally colonised by saints' days, and national days, he suggests we might prefer to "redeem time", by taking a day off to celebrate and commiserate on Destruction of the Commune in 1871 Day, Celebrate the day George Bush steps down from office Day, and Animal Intelligence Day, not because he particularly likes pets you understand, but because animals and birds do not own any property.

I enjoyed this room more than any other as it was so blatant in its politics, and avoided the tendentiousness presented earlier.

Celebration Park is the first solo exhibition in the UK by Huyghe, and is here under the umbrella of Paris Calling, a French art fest organised by the British Council and the French Embassy. Between now and December twenty galleries in London, Oxford and Margate will host contemporary art from over the Channel.

The French forgot how to paint 60 years ago, but they have a thriving installation and video scene which now counts as art, and now it seems they also have the confidence to show it off in the UK. This could be a mistake - although I do not like Brit Art and the installation fraudsters, I have to say we do fraud rather better than they do, although it is a close run thing.

Jane Kelly worked as a full time staff feature writer for the Daily Mail for 15 years, but she now lives as a freelance journalist and painter in west London.

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