Douglas Huebler (Ann Arbor, Michigan 1924 – Cape Cod, Massachusetts 1997) began his career as a sculptor in the early sixties with minimalist works that included forms of interaction with the viewer. Late in the decade, however, the artist abandoned the language of sculpture and gradually turned towards an increasingly immaterial art that called into question the traditional status of the art object.
In January 1969 he participated in the exhibition titled January 5-31, 1969 organized by Seth Siegelaub at a temporary venue in New York. The exhibition (whose title indicated its duration) also presented works by Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Wiener, was one of the key events in the history of Conceptual Art in America. On that occasion, Huebler published a statement in the exhibition catalog that was to become emblematic of an era and a new way of conceiving art apart from its physical manifestation: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more. I prefer, simply, to state the existence of things in terms of time and/or place.” This declaration was enlightening, not only to understanding the intention behind the works by the artist at that time but, more generally, to interpret the works Huebler would produce in subsequent years, including the series of Duration Pieces and Variable Pieces.
The Duration Pieces are works usually made up of several panels of photographs and texts that interact with each other. The photographs are taken in a given time sequence or in keeping with a very simple predetermined rule, such as shots taken always in the same direction every time the artist heard a bird chirping. In this way the Duration Pieces thematize not only the relation between photography, a specific place and points of time but call into question the very concept of authorship, opening up the creative process to the variables of chance and interaction with reality.
The Variable Pieces project, however, is not only the most ambitious one created by the artist but also the one that most radically testifies to the utopian tension animating Huebler’s work. Produced in 1971 as a work in progress and continued for ten years, the project consisted of the attempt (practically impossible) to document the existence of every living human being with a series of photographic grids accompanied by texts. After commenting on the relation between the mutability of human and mechanical recording, this series of works also engaged in a form of collaboration in depth between the artist and the work’s different owners who followed each other in time.
Exhibited in the artist’s solo exhibition held in 1974 at the Galleria Lia Rumma in Naples, Location Piece #7. Snow Sculpture Project Bradford, Massachusetts is an emblematic work in which photography and text combine to locate the image and action in a given time and specific space, both of these coordinates being clearly indicated in the title, while the shots were taken at ten second intervals with the aim of documenting the changes in the snow on the branches of a tree and its consequent reduction in weight.
The investigation of reality grasped in its complex and innumerable manifestations lies at the center of all Huebler’s work, which tests the limits of the concepts of “knowledge” and “documentation” and the validity of the cognitive instruments (such as language and photography) which we use to represent the visible and give a form to knowledge. Through instruments and methodologies that apparently record reality in detail, Huebler actually shows us the non-perceived that surrounds our everyday experience of it.