If the liminal is a subliminal state of uncertainty that corresponds to being foreign to oneself

Liminal is the title of the great exhibition dedicated to Pierre Huyghe in Venice. The enormous spaces of Punta della Dogana tell the story of the subtle threshold of that state at the limit of consciousness and perception in an anthological exhibition of the French artist's work.

Which travels, precisely along a poorly definable, mysterious, sometimes frightening state, which has to do with our perceptive capacity. Thus perception goes on stage, modifies the spaces and also the progress of the exhibition itself which promises to be in progress, indeed, performative.

Here's why (in one hypothesis).

The first issue is the visitor's perception of the exhibition. Because the first request from the artist and curator is not to see: the exhibition is in the dark, and at least the first room - enormous - requires time to get used to the darkness.

Meanwhile, a giant screen tells of a faceless woman in a desert non-place (in reality it is the Atacama desert, in Chile), completely naked (Liminal, 2024).

Nothing defines the situation, except her nakedness and the almost surrealist absence of her face, which at times even appears empty. The show is in progress because that figure moves by reacting to stimuli that it receives from the environment through sensors and evolves as it learns by expanding its memory. It is an experiment, as stated in the exhibition booklet, which aims to simulate a speculative human condition.

In the same room there is also a cast of a pregnant human womb, shortly before giving birth, made of basalt (Estelarium, 2024) and a sensory antenna made up of receivers and emitters (Portal, 2024).

In the meantime, the visitor's eye has become tamed to the dark environment, although not without difficulty: many pass by quickly, aided by the torch activated on their mobile phone, others are forced to stop because the brightness of the smartphone on which they are reading the captions of the exhibition creates a dark effect, once you look away from the screen, even more "black"...

So, a film, Human Mask from 2014. We are in Fukushima, or rather in the desolate surroundings of the Japanese city hit by the earthquake and nuclear catastrophe of 2011, and then we enter a restaurant where a monkey wears a girl's mask and repeats in a loop the gestures for which it was trained. Useless, senseless alongside endless waiting, those gestures speak of the necessary and accidental, reality and fiction in a residual human being.

Then, the light. A room dedicated to the artist's aquariums which plays on glass capable of enlarging, deforming, enlarging and shrinking the objects and animals contained within them, depending on the visitor's position but also thanks to an algorithm that allows the materials transparent to reactdifferently depending on the amount of light and atmospheric agents.

Now the public sees, but cannot help but doubt their own visual ability.

The room is sparse, it almost resembles a space in a natural science museum, but this time the protagonists are not only the animals contained in the water together with rocks and other stone sculptures (including a copy of Brancusi's mask, Sleeping Muse): these are artificial intelligence, environmental surveys, the public and the material that builds aquariums.

Who are the sleeping muses? What are our perceptions? The liminal, here too, widens and that threshold, which often appears thin to us, between conscious and unconscious, welcomes normally unexpected dimensions. Or maybe, are they the ones behind the mask?

Yet another film, this time self-generated and edited in real time by artificial intelligence, seems to tell the story of an unknown ritual practiced by machinery around a human skeleton. Science fiction, perhaps a distant planet, certainly (again) the Chilean desert. There is no beginning or even an end, the narrative changes infinitely and life seems to belong to objects that by definition lack it.

So, once again the darkness where two light installations seem like the miniature of the stage lights of a rock concert, too low (they are positioned at a lower height than that of the human figure) and too numerous however.

In reality, the work, entitled Offspring (2018), is also self-generating and based on self-learning from external and contingent conditions. Therefore at every moment it is different from itself, while the lights try to continuously synchronize with the contingent result.

The exhibition is also divided into other rooms, to give life to a subtly performative movement. The sparse display leaves room for the evolution of the works and the dialogue that they establish with the visitor. However, he is not always able to perceive the effects and perhaps a double visit to the exhibition should be considered to see how, over time, the living beings - human and non-human - on display have evolved.

Who knows if evolution is the correct term, and not simply the result of anthropocentric and positivist thinking. This is certainly an exhibition about estrangement and therefore about being strangers to oneself in a continuous present, perhaps incapable of memory. Liminal is perhaps one of the most interesting declinations of the theme of the 60th Art Biennale, Foreigners everywhere.

Liminal: foreign, alienating, other than oneself in a constant deception of perception. Precarious, particular, uncertain.

Pierre Huyghe, Liminal, curated by Anne Stenne, Venice, Punta della Dogana, until November 24