Describing Huyghe’s work can be challenging and frustrating. It is like trying to describe what salt tastes like without using the word salty. Information about his projects are never handed to the viewer on a silver platter; they are left to fend for themselves.
In an article by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times, Huyghe is described as “one of the most admired and intellectually formidable European artists of his generation.” His projects are layers of meaning, intellect, and innuendo. He takes the concept of mixed-media to another level entirely, often integrating living creatures and the rhythms of nature into his work. He collaborated with scientists at Rockefeller University to engineer living replicas of the whimsical, fictional butterflies that obsessive lepidopterist Vladimir Naboko had sketched for a wife, including one with checkerboard wings. On another project, Huyghe created a grotto-like sculpture based on the interior walls of the intestinal tract as taken from video footage from a camera capsule swallowed by a patient.
Huyghe has been heavily influenced by Raymond Roussel’s 1914 novel “Locus Solus,” about a mad scientist who keeps cadavers who react scenes from their past in a giant aquarium (aquariums are a recurring theme in Huyghe’s work). Huyghe calls his work Relational Aesthetics, a subset of Conceptualism, which is an “approach to art making that emphasizes participation, social interaction and chance.”
His work seeks to control the viewer’s experience, which is evident in his installation at the Met. Pavers on the roof have been taken up and moved around, giving the impression of a construction site. Guests are then required to move about the space with caution and only in areas which are “open to the public.” The centrepiece of exhibition is, not surprisingly, an aquarium. Inside is a giant piece of Manhattan schist and a slew of tiny sea creatures which will evolve and interact as the summer progresses. The aquarium is slowly leaking water into the ground, releasing organisms, including worms, into the spaces the cement pavers once occupied. Puddles are forming and weeds are sprouting. The outcome of all of this is unknown, which is what Huyghe finds the most intriguing.