An interview with London-based French artist Marguerite Humeau.
When the curator and concept of the 2nd edition of the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA2) were announced, it was soon widely suspected that the London-based French artist Marguerite Humeau (1986) would be among the ranks of artists due to her long and fruitful cooperation – and friendship – with the biennial’s curator-in-chief Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel. Of course, this did eventually turn out to be the case. As I finish writing this interview in April 2020, it is now known that RIBOCA2 has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet before the closing of the borders I managed to visit one of its potentially most interesting artists at her London studio.
For her modest age of 34, Humeau has accomplished rather much. She has had solo exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary and the Palais de Tokyo (FOXP2, 2016), Tate Britain (Echoes, 2017), Manifesta 2016, Frieze London (Visions, 2016), and Nottingham Contemporary and the New Museum in New York (Birth Canal, 2018). She has been nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp and has received the Battaglia Foundry Sculpture Prize, the Zurich Art Prize, the Royal British Society of Sculptors Bursary Award and others. Her work can be found in the collections of MoMA in New York, Tate London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Fonds de Dotation Famille Moulin in Paris, among others. After she participated in a show curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine Galleries in 2014 (for which she resurrected Cleopatra’s voice singing an ancient love song), the curator wrote: “Humeau may be a young artist, but her work reaches back to before the dawn of human history itself.”
So it is, indeed, for much of Humeau’s work – mostly manifested in the form of sculpture or installation – deals with deep time and the extinction of forgotten beings. In her reflections, she mixes science, history, myth, conspiracy theories, animalism, bioethics and many other aspects and viewpoints. As she has said of her own work: “Research gives credibility to my stories. I use scientific facts but also, and more importantly, speculations and fictions. I want to create strong physical, almost supernatural experiences.” One of the latest topics she has focused on is whether, after witnessing the mass extinction of their peers and other species due to environmental collapse and climate change, wild animals of our age might begin developing some sense of spirituality. After visiting Humeau’s studio and our conversation, this idea certainly seems more credible to me than before.
Do you remember how you became interested in extinct animals?
In 2010, I participated in a project that focused on imagining scenarios about things that would happen when biotechnologies become much more intertwined in our daily lives. That was just after Michael Jackson died, and I wondered what would happen if we could recreate the larynx, the vocal cords of dead people. I discovered a company that was printing organs from cells with the help of 3D printers. And so I was thinking about the future of this – maybe we could recreate the larynges of singers and other icons? But if we could do that, we could also do it on an industrial scale. Basically, meaning that we would be able to have the larynx of someone performing at different places at the same time. Then I began thinking about how that would be the equivalent of the digital revolution – one could be present in many different places at the same time, but instead of being present through a screen, the person’s larynx would be physically present. So I started looking into extraordinary voices that unfortunately don’t exist anymore. Furthermore, I started thinking about extinct animals, and what would happen if we were able to recreate their voices and therefore also, in a way, their physical presence.