“Birth Canal,” the first US solo museum exhibition by Marguerite Humeau (b. 1986, Cholet, France), debuts a new body of sculpture within an installation of light, sound, and scent. Humeau’s work centers on the origins of humankind and related histories of language, love, spirituality, and war. She prefaces each project with a period of intense investigation in which she engages diverse authorities on her chosen subject, including historians, anthropologists, paleontologists, zoologists, explorers, linguists, and engineers. Through her interdisciplinary, speculative inquiry, Humeau enriches her own thinking as an artist and researcher, and refashions historical quests in ways that reflect the technological age in which we live.
For “Birth Canal,” Humeau studies the origins of Venus figurines, prehistoric female goddess statuettes found throughout the world. Her research expands on the idea that early modern humans may have ingested animal brains for their psychoactive effects: in this theory, Venus figurines functioned as recipes, marking out an anatomical guide for shamans and those seeking spiritual ecstasy through altered consciousness. In her installation, Humeau envisions a scene from 150,000 years ago, when Mitochondrial Eve, the most recent matrilineal ancestor common to all humans, is estimated to have lived. Ten digitally rendered sculptures, meticulously realized in cast bronze or carved stone, beckon the viewer into a dark space that smells faintly sweet and mineral-like, its odor inspired by bodily liquids associated with birth. Formally ambiguous, the sculptures resemble both brains and Venus figures, and represent shamanic women of different ages. Seen and heard in an ominous state of polyphonic trance—part convocation, part choral lament—they prophesy the future extinction of their offspring, humankind. With allusions to animism, totemism, and spiritual travel, Humeau’s installation creates a forum for these imagined voices and premonitions, underscoring the brevity of human existence relative to cosmic and geologic time.
Following its debut at the New Museum, Humeau’s exhibition will travel to Kunstverein Hamburg in February 2019, and Museion, Bolzano in September 2019.
The exhibition is curated by Natalie Bell, Associate Curator.
Marguerite Humeau (b. 1986, Cholet, France) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Tate Britain (2017); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2017); Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2017); Les Abattoirs Musée FRAC Occitanie, Toulouse (2017); Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2016); and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2016). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery, London (2018); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2018); High Line, New York (2017); Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2017); Manifesta 11, Zurich (2016), Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna (2015); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); and elsewhere. Humeau received the Zurich Art Prize in 2017 and the Battaglia Foundry Sculpture Prize in 2018.