Marguerite Humeau Biography

Working in London, French artist Marguerite Humeau sits at the crossroads of academia and fine art, underpinning her installations with rigorous research into niche fields such as zoology, palaeontology and ancient history. Creating bizarre ecosystems, Humeau opens up existential and speculative questions in her work, collaborating with experts throughout.

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Early Years

Humeau grew up in Beaupréau, a former commune in rural France. She initially studied in Paris for a BTS diploma in textile design at the esteemed École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et Des Métiers d'Art. Later, she earned a BA in industrial design at the Design Academy Eindhoven in Netherlands, before coming to London for an MA in design interactions, a specialised course at the Royal College of Art that spans subjects from nanotechnology to biotechnology.

Eventually, Humeau made the jump into contemporary art, bringing her design-based expertise to the medium. Her goal, however, is not to solve functional needs, but instead, to create enigmatic narratives that ask more than they answer.

Marguerite Humeau Artworks

With a practice rooted in sculpture, the artist develops totemic structures that mimic and enhance natural forms, adding a surrealist touch that feels both futuristic and prehistoric. Deeply uncanny, her sculptures act like tools to imagine other worlds that exist, have existed or might exist. She begins with facts, then extrapolates her physical hypothesis.

Flora and Fauna

In 2016, Humeau showcased her work on an institutional stage, forming a bizarre 'biological showroom' filled with grieving elephants in a spectrum of moods and predicaments, from morose and inebriated, to joyous and astounded. Showing as part of a collaboration between Nottingham Contemporary and Palais de Tokyo, the exhibition was entitled FOXP2 (2016) after a specific gene responsible for human vocal functions.

Envisioning an alternative scenario where elephants, not humans, functioned as speaking, sentient creatures with souls, FOXP2 called on leading scientific research in voice synthesis from the University Cambridge to create a simulation of rudimentary language. A milestone for Humeau, her show featured carefully formulated details, such as alcohol fermentation arrangements that made real her ponderings of drunken, talking elephants.

Fact and Fiction

Mining science and mythology alike, Humeau puts the accepted and contested into fruitful conversation, drawing cultural parallels between past and present. True to her approach, the artist's Riddles (2017) __exhibition at Clearing gallery, New York, re-historicised body-scanning technologies, anti-climbing paint and CCTV with reference to Greek mythology, specifically the Sphinx of Thebes, a female monster that guarded the Greek city.

Later, as part of Tate Britain's 'Art Now' series, the artist expanded her art practice in a multi-sensory show, Echoes (2017–18). The artwork formed a coiling chemistry set, pumped with a specially designed fluid, dubbed a cocktail for eternal life. An intricate example of bioengineering, the installation was built using natural substances and artificial ones, soundtracked with a modelled version of queen Cleopatra's voice. The result skewed time and space, both thought-provoking and irreverent.

Belly of the Beast

Perennial themes in Humeau's work are engulfment and mutation, bringing the vulgar interior and exterior of mammals and humans starkly into view. In her Birth Canal (2018) exhibition at New Museum, New York, Humeau developed her obsession in a visceral interpretation of ancient shamanic visions people experienced after ingesting animal brains. Somewhere between brains and Venus figurines, the digitally rendered artworks were accompanied by a satellite show, Birth Canal Drawings (2018), at Clearing gallery, New York, which showed the grisly, anatomical sketches that came before.

Awards and Accolades

In 2019, Humeau was nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp. In 2018, she won the second iteration of the Battaglia Foundry Sculpture prize and in 2017 she was the recipient of the Zürich Art Prize. Previously, in 2014, she received the Royal British Society of Sculptors Bursary Award.

Exhibitions

Marguerite Humeau has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.

Solo exhibitions include: Energy Flows, Clearing, New York (2022); Gisant II, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and West Bund Museum, Shanghai (2020); Birth Canal, New Museum, New York (2018); and FOXP2, Nottingham Contemporary and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2016).

Group exhibitions include: A Gateway to Possible Worlds: Art & Science-Fiction, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Paris (2022); All of Them Witches, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles (2020); and Extinction Marathon: Visions of the Future, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (2014).

Articles

Articles on Marguerite Humeau have been published in various publications, including the New York Times, Flash Art and the Artforum.

Joe Bobowicz | Ocula | 2023

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