An hour’s drive from the city, just outside of Healesville, the TarraWarra Museum of Art is the perfect setting for the first Australian solo exhibition from French artist Pierre Huyghe. Explaining his work is tough. Using a combination of installation and video art, and featuring a 30-million-year-old bit of tree resin to the daily experience of a monkey trained as a waiter, Huyghe is interested in the leaking borders of time and nature.

The show’s co-curator, Amelia Barikin, is also the author of Parallel Presents, a book that gets to the core of Huyghe’s work. In the book, Barikin says Huyghe’s work offers: “an alternate coding of temporal practices”. But what does that mean?

Broadsheet: You talk in your book about how Huyghe’s work is about time – in what sense?
Amelia Barikin: Time is not a straight line. That’s a culturally coded idea. This work is about the potentials and possibilities of that.

Our time is so managed. Look at the way a museum or gallery codes our access to art by only being open at certain times. Huyghe is bringing our attention to the way that our access to art is “formatted”.

And then there’s geological time. We get a tiny little span of life on this planet, so there’s a lot we can’t comprehend about the time around us. The planet’s time span is way bigger than our brains can comprehend.

BS: Isn’t a show about the wilds of time a little confined inside the walls of a gallery?
AB: The context of it being in TarraWarra is very important. It’s a beautiful landscape, and the building has massive picture windows. The borders of inside and outside are blurred, as are the lines between nature and culture. Huyghe doesn’t see them as different. Art is a natural product.

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Huyghe is interested in those leaky borders: one space turning into another. When you leave these close-ups of ants and tadpoles and bacteria and spiders – images of incredible microscopic detail – an after-image stays with you as you go back into the landscape. That wouldn’t work at somewhere in the city.

There’s so much life in the exhibition. People often say a museum is where art goes to die, but that’s not true here. The show is alive. It’s a little ecosystem of its own.

BS: There are spiders and ants roaming free throughout the museum, for example...
AB: And they’re just doing whatever they want to do. That work is called Umwelt, which translates as “self-world”. There’s a suggestion there that our notions of time are shared with the notions of time of the insects. Are they? We have no idea. If you think of them as an artwork, they’re resistant to the “museum time”. They don’t care when the museum is open and closed. And neither do the other works.

It’s very subtle, and you wouldn’t notice them unless you were looking. I think it shifts the way we interact with the space. It’s excellent watching people wandering around and looking really closely at the walls and corners, where it seems like there’s nothing there. Your focus becomes so small … and it changes the way you think about nature when you go outside. 

Pierre Huyghe: Tarrawarra International 2015 is at the TarraWarra Museum of Art until November 22.