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Kunstverein in Hamburg opens an exhibition of works by Marguerite Humeau
Marguerite Humeau, ECSTASIES, installation view, Kunstverein in Hamburg, 2019, Photo: Fred Dott.

HAMBURG.- With ECSTASIES, the Kunstverein in Hamburg presents the largest institutional solo exhibition to date in Germany by the sculptor and installation artist Marguerite Humeau. The show features a captivating installation comprised of sculptures, sound and drawings. Her work focuses on the origins of humankind and the communication between worlds. It always starts with intensive research conducted in collaboration with historians, anthropologists, palaeontologists, zoologists, linguists, and engineers. Humeau enriches her interdisciplinary, speculative research with her own thoughts as an artist and redesigns the historical quest in such a way that it reflects our technological age.

Marguerite Humeau reenacts a speculated scene from a time lying 150.000 years in the past, when a group of women randomly encountered psychoactive substances for the first time. Unprecedented in human history, the brain abandoned its standard mode through the intake of psychoactive substances and entered into uncharted territory. The spectacular consequences of this event may have resulted in a neuronal reorganization, imperceptible because happening on a microscopic scale. This new configuration of the human brain allowed for a new social structure that differs completely from other primates. The urgency was always to testify or mimic these visions. Therefore, it has been speculated that these newly experienced journeys of the mind might have been at the origin of language, art, and religion.

To support and develop this initial hypothesis, Humeau found a paper written by archaeologist Bette Hagens who compares the Venus figurines with animal brains and draws attention to the striking physical similarities. She presumes that prehistoric shamans consumed the psychoactive parts of animal brains to achieve spiritual ecstasy through mind alteration. The shamans presumably chose certain parts of the brains of specific animals with which they communicated or which they wanted to metamorphose into. They might have archived those concoctions by carving them in various materials. Those sculpted recipes for spiritual travels might be, what were called later the “Venus figurines”. The Venus figurines might be the symbol of this new neuronal organization after the discovery of psychoactive substances by early humans 150.000 years ago.

For her show at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, the artist has developed a new series of works composed of digital 3D models, bronze casts and stone sculptures, completed by a large series of drawings. This series bridge the prehistoric past to the possible distant future, speculating on potential futures for human consciousness.

In the darkened exhibition space, ten Venus-like figures sit, stand or lie on several pedestals, inviting the viewers to discover the depths of their own consciousness. The digitally rendered figures are made of different materials, including limestone, alabaster and bronze, and refer to historically significant, prehistoric Venus depictions such as the Venus of Courbet (ca. 14.900 years old) or the Venus of Frasassi (ca. 20.000 – 28.000 years old). The artist grasps the exhibition space as a setting for a polyphonic séance. The sculptures appear ambiguous in formal terms and occasionally remind one of depictions of women bodies, brains, figurines or spiritual beings from various ages and of different origins.

The entire space is imbued by a sound installation. From soft breathing, to repetitive singing, the female figures are here witnessed experiencing this primordial trance. Their voices lead us through the journey of their mind, at times mutating into various animals, at times reaching the limits of their human capabilities. In a second, bright room resembling the showroom of high-tech companies, maybe a “travel agency for spiritual journeys”, Humeau presents a large speculative frieze which is the fruit of her research on the speculated primordial expansion of human consciousness. Humeau discussed with various experts such as shamans, magic mushroom researchers, neuroscientists, and developed a series of drawings that seem to ask as many questions as they try to answer. ECSTASIES highlights the transience of human existence in relation to the cosmic and geological reckoning of time.

Marguerite Humeau (*1986, Cholet, France) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Tate Britain (2017), Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2017), Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (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), Château de Versailles (2017), Les Abattoirs Musée FRAC Occitanie, Toulouse (2017), High Line, New York (2017), Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2017), Manifesta 11, Zurich (2016), ThyssenBornemisza 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.

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