Creative Strategist. Storyteller. Photographer.


A discussion on Pierre Huyghe's, 'The Third Memory'


“…Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.”
– Karl Marx (Comment on James Mill)

In this contemporary moment, a moment sutured into being by production and industry, we are, as Debord so claimed, the society of the spectacle: what was once lived immediately is not lived, rather, it is mediated via representation. Under this condition of late-capitalism, a spiral of media consumption fashions mass culture by a uniform design: schematization, standardization, and homogenization of culture that inculcates consumerism as a way of life.

This spectacle is not an external collection of images so much as a social relation among people, mediated by them; the internalization is the spectacle. It is the existing order’s uninterrupted monologue of itself, a unilateral communication that never gestures outside of itself, and is therefore, manufactured outside of itself.  This representation, then, is the ideological construct into which we are born. It forms the “imaginary relationship to our real conditions of existence”[1] that, therefore, separates people from their own lived experience. Furthermore, as universal media assumes a broadcast architecture, from few to an atomized many, images produced do not merely mirror reality, rather, they inform and compose a new reality— they are a constituent part of human interrelations.

Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory negotiates this complex positioning of truth and representation and its mediation through commercial signals and social interaction. 

In this video, Huyghe takes on the real-life story of John S. Wojtowicz, a man famous for his 1972 bank robbery and subsequent hostage-taking in Brooklyn, New York. In turn, Wojtowicz’s story was adapted for the cinema by Warner Brothers (director, Sidney Lumet) in the film Dog Day Afternoon, with Al Pacino playing his role. For The Third Memory, Huyghe asks Wojtowicz to reenact that moment of his life, interweaving this “replay” with both live television-footage of the event and scenes from the Hollywood movie.

The video opens with the image of the ubiquitous FBI Copyright Warning, layered with the audio of Wojtowicz’s voice describing the story, his story that was fictionalized by cinema, explaining the tense, armed interchange between a police officer and himself.  With no change in the visual, the immediately proceeding audio is Wojtowicz explaining the external story, the tale of his 28-year legal battle with Warner Brothers for appropriating his story for the movie, Dog Day Afternoon, without financial compensation. Already we confront the juxtaposition of both fact and fiction that is posed by this work.  And yet, this relationship exceeds any binary form and is, in fact, a complex network of representation.  Assuming a documentary-like form, The Third Memory enables Wojtowicz to assert a sort of validated, authenticated, version of his own life— a reappropriation of his own reality. But, this reality is, itself, constructed by representation. For, as the dialogue progresses, we learn that Wojtowicz and his partners (they call themselves “The Gang’”) went to see the Godfather, which debuted in New York on that same day, August 22 1972, to literally “inspire the troops.” Marlon Brando and Al Pacino (ironically the same actor who would later interpret his own role in the robbery) gave “The Gang” the idea to leave the note with the bank associate that read: “This is an offer you can’t refuse.” In a sort of closed-loop transmission, Wojtowicz’s own reality was mediated by that represented image—fiction replaced fact.

This dance between truth and representation continues. Wojtowicz is, indeed, recounting his story, and yet, it is through re-enactment that he finds his voice. In a very dry and directed fashion, Wojtowicz guides the “actors” through various movements and discourse in order to relate the event. While given the authority of the original tale, it is again, only a representation of it. With clips from the movie and television footage of the past event complimenting his reenactment, Huyghe positions these re-presentations so that the complex flows of social relations are imaged, and then again, transmitted to us in video form. It becomes a sort of mirror-in-front-of-another-mirror, where reality seems endlessly duplicated yet slightly altered by the bending and moving of the original mirror-frame.

The Third Memory illustrates this notion that the relationship between life and its representation is not a separate one. Television and cinema are not merely artificial constructs for image-making, but are, in fact, stages for complex human relations, a space of collective interaction in which individual histories confront idiosyncratic image-forms creating an amplification of reality. Another example of this is seen when Wojtowicz explains an interesting detail of that historic event. The FBI had been given orders from Washington to kill Wojtowicz because Nixon was supposed to be on TV that night for his presidential nomination acceptance speech and that transmission was being interrupted by the “gay bank-robber” (Wojtowicz’s words). Image is pitted against image and, once more, the convoluted web of relations finds expression through a broadcast form.

Thus, Huyghe’s work not only amplifies this dynamic set of relations, but positions the viewer in front of the video screen, bringing his/her own history to it. Whether in a gallery or a private viewing, The Third Memory reminds us that in performing our own identities, our own realities, we are, in fact, both mediated by and conduits ofrepresentation.

Society, then, is a manifestation of such complex connectivity—a literal montage of image and representation.


[1] Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays: “Ideology and the State Apparatuses” (New York: Monthly Review Press), 162.