Kingdoms Come

I was just 5 years old that day my mother took me to the zoo. We headed to the petting zoo, where we bought pellets for feeding the animals. My favorite was the llama that looked like a dusty cotton ball with legs. I wanted to have my picture taken with it, so I turned to face my mom and smile. And the llama puked on me. Down my waist-length hair, down my overalls, down to my sneakers. After a not very efficient detour to wash my hair and clothes in the small sink of the bathroom, we continued our journey, me pretty grumpy and still reeking of llama vomit.

This is a story I've told probably a hundred times in the 22 years since the incident took place. So many times, in fact, that I have no idea how much of it is fact and how much fiction. Stories do that. They start out pure fact and are embellished telling by telling until one day our anecdotes need to be prefaced with "based on a true story." It's not a lie, but it's not the truth exactly. It's this third thing, a space that hovers between the two. This is Pierre Huyghe's favorite place.

Huyghe, a French multimedia artist (his last name is pronounced "weeg"), documents these gaps between fact and fiction, examining how the two opposing elements influence each other and become this middle territory. All three works in his new solo exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth called Pierre Huyghe: One Million + Kingdoms include this component. The best example is The Third Memory, a 1999 video inspired by how the movie Dog Day Afternoon included a statement that it was based on a true event. In the film, Al Pacino plays a man who tries to rob a bank to pay for his lover's sex change operation, but becomes a media spectacle during a long standoff caught on film. For his project, Huyghe tracked down the man, John Wojtowicz. The Third Memory features a screen split into three: the news footage of the event, Wojtowicz's re-enactment of the robbery and Pacino's portrayal. That's three truths, none of which are the whole truth. (For some, the video might be too real with its adult content and language, so the museum is requiring visitors 17 and under to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.)

The other two videos tread similar territory, but in more subtle ways. Les Grands Ensembles shows models for the high-rise buildings built as low-income housing in Paris after World War II. Huyghe's models are enveloped in fog, which clears and builds while lights blink on and off. It gives these bizarre, isolated buildings a life of their own, reflecting Huyghe's childhood views of the buildings and their displacement from the rest of the neighborhood. The third, One Million Kingdoms, is a collaborative work as part of the project No Ghost Just a Shell. Huyghe and Philippe Parreno bought a character from a company that makes stock characters for anime and manga. Called Annlee, she appears in scenes created by 13 artists, traveling a moonscape narrated by Neil Armstrong, who's reading Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, not an original script. Part of the gray space here is that Vernes' sci-fi work about space travel predated the space program (his lies became truth), and some believe Armstrong's moon landing was a hoax (the truth becomes a lie). Despite the mind-bending qualities of Huyghe's videos, they're both beautiful and entertaining. And that's the truth.