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Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects)

A work made of vistavision film, sound, transferred to digital video (projection on screen); 7:51 min. loop.

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  • A work made of vistavision film, sound, transferred to digital video (projection on screen); 7:51 min. loop.




Pierre Huyghe
French, born 1962

About this artwork

Noted artist Pierre Huyghe uses diverse media—including large-scale installation, public events, and video—to delve into the uncertainties of representation and to investigate how narrative models affect our sense of reality. In the process, he moves through a variety of creative fields, such as architecture, cinema, design, and music, with an eye to their unique qualities and conventions. Although often grounded in particular historical or cultural reference points, his works unfold as open-ended entities that invite multiple interpretations.
Huyghe’s video installation Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects) presents a fixed view of two residential towers in a bleak urban landscape, swathed in fog at night. Lacking any signs of human activity, the buildings appear to take on lives of their own as the video’s buzzing electronic soundtrack, composed by Pan Sonic and Cédric Pigot, builds in intensity. Windows in the two facades begin to light up rhythmically and with increasing frequency, as if communicating in some sort of code. The towers, which are actually models the artist created in a film studio, echo French government housing projects common in the 1970s, but they do not represent specific buildings. Instead, they can be seen as archetypes, standing in for the Modernist program in architecture and the social agendas to which it was tied. Meanwhile, the audio track is reminiscent of experimental directions in electronic music in the same era, reinforcing this historical allusion. The video is a reflection on the failures of utopian Modernism, signaled in part by the desolate mise-en-scène. This familiar narrative, however, ultimately gives way to the volley of lights, a mysterious cipher that resists attempts at interpretation.
A landmark project for Huyghe, Les Grands Ensembles premiered at the 2001 Venice Biennale as part of the artist’s installation of the French Pavilion. There it was accompanied by other works, such as Atari Light (1999), a room-sized version of the early video game Pong, which visitors could play on illuminated ceiling panels that evoked a Modernist grid. Huyghe installed the works in multiple rooms, separated by doors with modulating levels of transparency, to create what he described as “a blinking organism”—a constellation of associations and disjunctions that shifted as lines of sight opened up and disappeared.
Interweaving themes from the histories of architecture, design, and popular culture, Huyghe invites viewers to consider our relationship with the overdetermined, highly coded world of mass-media representations. Les Grands Ensembles, for its part, introduces the artist’s engagement with forms of spectacle and the cultural conditions that emerge from them. The flashing lights that play across the facades of these buildings, repeated in an endless video loop, seem to ask whether this is a stream of coded information waiting to be translated or a deluge of vacant representation, a spectacle pointing to nothing but itself.


Currently Off View


Contemporary Art


Pierre Huyghe


Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects)


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 1994–2001


Vistavision film, sound, transferred to digital video (projection on screen); 7:51 min. loop


Artist's proof 1 of 2, from an edition of 5

Credit Line

Gift of Donna and Howard Stone

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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