Pierre Huyghe, Les Grands Ensembles (1994–2001)

Please screen the video above and respond in the comments section below.

What do you think about Huyghe’s Video? What have you discovered?

Does the video art work induce personal reflection in anyway? If so please share.

(I was lucky enough to screen this piece in full scale at the Guggenheim in 2002).


Pierre Huyghe, Les Grands Ensembles (1994–2001)

Source Via – https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/hugo-boss-prize-2002-pierre-huyghe

“On October 16, 2002, Pierre Huyghe was awarded the fourth biennial Hugo Boss Prize. Inaugurated in 1996, the prize was conceived to recognize and support contemporary artists making profound contributions to the cultural landscape. Huyghe has gained international prominence for works that explore the convergence of reality and fiction, memory and history. Incorporating film, video, sound, animation, sculpture, and architecture in his diverse works, the artist intervenes in familiar narrative structures to investigate the construction of collective and individual identities in relationship to various forms of cultural production. Huyghe is interested in both reading and making possible multiple, subjective reinterpretations of incidents and images that shape our realities. Through such retranslations, Huyghe offers a way for his characters and his viewers to take back control of their own images, their own stories.”

“At the Guggenheim, Huyghe presents a film installation, Les Grands Ensembles (1994–2001) that address alternative modes of representation and communication (the work has been compared to the attempts at contact in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). In Les Grands Ensembles a pair of bleak buildings, models based on 1970s French housing projects, enacts a subtle inanimate drama. Enveloped in fog, the uninhabited scene is both romantic and alienating. “These subsidized public projects ended up being an architectural and social failure,” explains Huyghe. “They were a corruption of Le Corbusier’s social and architectural Modernist theory.” Though meant to be temporary, these structures are still here, much as we may try to ignore them. Huyghe brings the buildings into view and gives them agency. “Without beginning or ending,” he says, “the two low-income towers dialogue in a strange Morse code given by the light of their respective windows, a blinking existence.”


  1. Avatar
    Len Antinori says:

    While reading the paragraph about the video, it was mentioned that this short could be compared with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which is obvious because of the ways the lights in each building seem to communicate to each other.
    But I felt it was unfortunate that I read that before seeing it since I could not get that analogy out of my head.
    So I have tried to analyze the imagery first of all in a formal (design) sense such as the symmetry, the contrast of shapes and color/values that changed depending on the ambient lighting/time of the day and weather condition.
    In some way I sensed a symbolism of mankind vs. nature and a favorite concept of mine; analog vs. digital. This seemed to be reinforced with the electronic/digital soundtrack complimenting the lights switching on and off, like some basic computer program inside a large computer.
    All of this might have nothing to do with the concept that the artist intended, but one of the things I like about this video and most Contemporary Art is its ability to touch upon personal themes within each viewer, validating its existence.

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    Hannah Kerin says:

    I enjoyed the thought and the purpose that went into Huyghe’s video. What I discovered from his video, is that life is a cycle, it starts and end in the same place. However, what happens in between can be sporadic.

    If so please share.
    The video does induce personal reflection. As I stated earlier, the video started and ending in the same way, with the same lighting. I believe that the video was bringing up the cycle of events, or the cycle from day to night. How the light always comes back, but what happens in between the start and the end is unpredictable. Just like life, every day morning and night come, but what happens between morning and night is ever changing (like the lights flickering in the building).

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    Wilmer Cuba says:

    The music offered a feeling of uneasiness and irritability. There was something disturbing about the scene. Between the fog, the two lonely buildings attempting to communicate with each other by use of lights blinking on and off and even in rhythm at some point, and the freakishly irritating music or sounds, I thought this video conveyed a message of loneliness, irritation, and even sadness. It was CREEPY, like the backdrop scene out of a scary halloween movie, like the headless horseman or something like that, or maybe even a graveyard scene in a scary movie…CREEPY.

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      admin says:

      This piece does little justice when presented on a small screen, (as it is most often screened today by those who may discover it. ) How does this play a role in modern times? The artists intention at the time may have not considered this.

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    Andrea says:

    Although I enjoyed it, Huyghe’s piece was very unsettling. I too noticed the cyclical factor to the music and the code of the lights–did anyone else start seeing numbers in the lights? I kept seeing 3 and 6. Besides that I couldn’t help but thinking of these buildings as people, seeming to fall in love and trying to communicate in a hopeless place and situation (in a sort of sci-fi setting). Almost a sort of love will lead the way sort of feeling. I might be romanticizing it a bit and making France more of a character in this piece than it really is. I also remember being very surprised when the fog lifted and we could see that there was a lake or something reflective in between the two buildings. That was a very “there’s more than meets the eye” moment for this piece.

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    Kim Toledo says:

    The video was very entertaining, i wouldn’t say i felt anything personal and emotional toward it but i enjoyed it. Throughout my first viewing i went in with no knowledge of the artist and what the video contained. This led me to question everything that was in front of me. I wondered if the music came before the light communication or did the lights inspire the music after? I also questioned why did he choose these particular buildings, are they trying to communicate with one another? Once i scrolled further down i saw the artist statement/bio which led me to watch the video again. My second time watching it i surprisingly found peace because i was focused on the communication between the buildings. I was mesmerized by the patterns and numbers that Piere the artist incorporated by using window lights. Pretty fascinating how much the explanation changes the viewers mindset.

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    Chie Kim says:

    The video left disturbed and unsettled feelings. The low monotonous pulsating beat, the impenetrable foggy weather pattern which impeded full visibility, and the slow cycling glow of the lights created an ominous foreshadowing of something negative to follow. The two identical structured buildings residing side by side, coming alive as the cycle of day into night inferred through the display of the pattern of lights. Each building having its own maturation as the speed and brightness of the lights increase and diminish. Coexisting in the landscape as a whole and yet alone.
    This made me reflect on the existence of life, the cycle of life. The buildings breathe life slowly and individually then rapidly become obvious and connect as a whole. The cycle of each independent building is unique and has its own usage. The sadness lies in the abrupt consumption of the buildings usage and quick devalue and discard. Yet it still stands contributing to the past, but left standing forgotten. This is the ills of the nature of humanity.

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    Madeline says:

    Huyghe’s video was interesting to say the least. I think that I kept waiting for something to pop out or to happen and I just kept waiting. I felt like I was just watching time pass and it felt very strange. At the beginning it was really slow; the fog, the lights, the sound all moved so slowly and I found that to be very peaceful. It almost left me in a trance. Although once it started speeding up and the lights and sound started moving along faster I found the video to be quite irritating. It almost made me anxious. I believe that Huyghe definitely achieved surrealism and evoking this feeling of the unknown. Although I don’t feel that the video portrayed any romanticism, but I guess each viewer will evoke a different emotion and will connect to the video differently than I have.

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    Miranda Luparello says:

    I enjoyed the video but it was a little confusing for me. I think it took a while to pick up and I didn’t really know what they were trying to convey. I thought that the concept was cool and I liked how the fog changed colors at times. The music was a little harsh as well and I wonder how the artist picked that music to go with the video. I guess because the video is pretty eerie itself! I did think all of the lights changing added suspense because it happened so slowly.

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    Grace Pentecoste says:

    I tried just watching the video before reading the following below. I definitely was able to get a sense of communication and existence. I felt a strong sense of time passing as the lights flicked on and off. I could tell that there was some sort of relationship between the buildings because the lights interacted just like Len had mentioned but after reading the explanation it is much clearer and profound as a piece of art. This video is a strong reflection to the emotions provoked by the artist about these buildings which was supposed to be a temporary thing.

    I agree that Huyghe offers a way for his characters and his viewers to take back control of their own images, their own stories because I was able to interpret my own story. I felt connected and attached to the video. It meant something to me. But I also had appreciation for his own meaning and that his art gives off individuality.

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