THE UNDERTAKER'S ART
a 4-part television series
by Joe Scanlan

Pierre Huyghe is an artist represented by Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris. He is a recipient of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum's Hugo Boss Prize, and he represented France at the 2001 Venice Bienale. This text was written as part of Huyghe's Mobile Television exhibition at Le Consortium, Dijon, in 1998, and first appeared in Le Château de Turing, a monograph co-published by les Presses du réel, Dijon, and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.

THE SET
The set will require: two chairs (arranged side by side but angled slightly towards each other, like on a typical talk show); one body-length table on wheels, preferably stainless steel, draped with a clean white cloth; one coffin; one low catafalque (coffin stand)

THE PROPS
The host (Joe) needs no special props. He will be seated stage left. The artist (Pierre) will need one fake Hollywood knife, the kind that emits a red liquid when you "cut" with it. He will also need the tools of his trade and perhaps two technicians with whom he is comfortable working—otherwise, museum technicians will do. He will be seated stage right. Wardrobe should be comfortable but slightly formal, a mix of funereal sobriety and talk show panache. Prada or Helmut Lang would be best.

SHOW 1
[camera frontal and stationary]

JOE
Hello, this is Joe Scanlan, and itÁs time for another installment of "The UndertakerÁs Art." Last week we learned how to cremate a body so that the ashes come out nice and smooth, and this week weÁre going to learn how to prepare a body for public viewing. With me is Pierre Huyghe (the artist is sitting to JoeÁs left), an artist with Marian Goodman Gallery—

PIERRE
—Bonjour, Joe—

JOE
—who will demonstrate the subtleties of his profession. Bonjour, Pierre. Where should we begin?

PIERRE
—Well, first I will need a mannequin—

JOE
—Will a live one do?

PIERRE
—Yes, a live one is fine. And second, I will need a table.

JOE
[Rises from his chair and begins to undress. Pierre watches.]

While Joe is undressing they can have an informal conversation about how business is doing, any interesting cases lately, etc. When Joe is completely nude, two technicians carry in a table and place it in front of the chairs. Joe lays on the table with his head to the right and his feet to the left. Pierre stands behind the table. From here, Joe asks basic questions and Pierre answers them while going through the motions of removing all the blood from the body, replacing it with embapming fluid, and adjusting any last minute flaws (an awkward expression, a twisted shoulder, an open wound) before rigor mortis sets in. It is IMPORTANT for effect that Joe continue to ask questions—continues to be "alive," so to speak—while Pierre does his demonstration. When Pierre is finished, Joe sits up, thanks the viewers, and invites them to tune in again for another installment of "The UndertakerÁs Art."

SHOW 2
[camera frontal and stationery; then close-up for the make-up sequence]

JOE
[Is sitting naked in his chair with the red marks from the hollywood knife removed and fake stitches drawn on his body with make-up pencil.]

PIERRE
[Is sitting next to him.]

JOE
(Typical greeting to viewers, introduction of Pierre, and a brief overview of the last show.) The topic of this show is cosmetics. After an introductory discussion, the technicians bring in a high stool for Joe and a cosmetic work station for Pierre. (It could be interesting to note the relationship between the cosmetic tray for the make-up and the surgical tray used before.)

PIERRE
Again, while Joe asks questions about color theory, lighting techniques, or if Pierre has any film idols like Greta Garbo or Jeanne Moreau, Pierre proceeds to apply make-up to JoeÁs face, ears, neck and hands—all the areas that will remain exposed once the corpse is dressed. You may need to make room on PierreÁs work station in order to do JoeÁs hands. When Pierre is finished, the show ends.

SHOW 3
[camera frontal and stationary]

JOE
[Is sitting per usual, now in fake stitches and make-up.]

PIERRE
[Is next to him]

JOE
Introduction, review, discussion, and then the draped table returns. Joe gets onto it, but this time he has to act "dead," meaning that he is completely relaxed and limp, so that the process of Pierre putting clothes on him is as realistic—i.e., difficult—as possible. Joe does not ask questions or speak or react in any way.

PIERRE
Pierre is completely on his own, explaining what he is doing as he does it. When he is finished he gives a short conclusion and summary, maybe even mentions a few of his upcoming exhibition projects. He then thanks the viewers for watching "The UndertakerÁs Art" and leaves the set.

JOE
[Remains lying on the table. The camera continues to roll.] When thirty minutes have passed, two technicians enter and wheel the table away.

SHOW 4
[camera frontal and stationary with ample depth of field, then hand-held and tracking 180 degrees]

PIERRE
[Sitting in the stage right guest chair. JoeÁs chair is empty.]

It is PierreÁs show now, and he greets the viewers and does the usual introduction and review. TodayÁs show is placing the body in the coffin, and after saying so, he requests that the technicians bring the coffin in.

TECHNICIANS
[Bring in a low catafalque and set it front and center, being careful to leave enough room between the chairs and the catafalque for the body table, which will come later. They exit and then return with a coffin, which they set on the catafalque.]

PIERRE
Pierre speaks a while about the history and tradition of coffins, tells a few interesting anecdotes about their materials and their shape, and then begins to address the subject of placing the body in the coffin. He asks the technicians for the body.

TECHNICIANS
[Wheel in the draped table with Joe on it, all made up and dressed.]

PIERRE
Speaks about the delicacy of placing the body, but also the ability to adjust it once it is in place. The most careful detail is the make-up, which must be minded but which also can be retouched afterwards. He asks the technicians to place the body in the coffin.

TECHNICIANS
[Lift Joe by head and feet. He should be quite stiff by now, so Joe will have to make is body as rigid as possible. You might cheat a little by hiding a plank of wood under his clothes that is as long as his body. The technicians gently place Joe in the coffin, step back to admire their work a little, and then exit the set.]

PIERRE
[Standing behind the coffin.]

Speaking as he works, Pierre adjusts JoeÁs body language in a firm, skilled manner until it is acceptable. Then he adjusts his clothes. The make-up has hopefully remained perfect so he will have not have to retouch it. When everything is satisfactory, Pierre says voil¶, and gestures at Joe.

CAMERA
[Orbits right 90 degrees to get a foreshortened, frontal view of JoeÁs reclining figure, and then zooms in on his face. Hold for thirty seconds. The camera then slowly zooms out to include Pierre in the shot.]

PIERRE
[Facing the camera, stage left]

Thanks the viewers, says goodbye and exits the set.

CAMERA
[slowly continues to orbit 90 degrees to the right, until it is behind the coffin, with JoeÁs head on the right and his feet on the left.]

The cables, lights, armatures, studio audience, etc., can be seen in the background. Joe lies still until thirty minutes have passed. When the show is over, the studio audience slowly gets up to leave.

TECHNICIANS
[Shut off the stage lights, turn up the utility lights, and begin winding cable, putting away equipment, etc. The show is over.]

JOE
[Sits up in the coffin. The technicians help him climb out of it. He stretches, yawns, and makes small talk with the technicians or Pierre about the show. An audience member who has stayed behind approaches to join the conversation, and maybe to asks for their autographs.]

THE END