Marguerite Humeau: Birth Canal
September 4 2018 – January 6 2019
In September 2018, the New Museum presented the first US solo museum exhibition by Marguerite Humeau, debuting 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 studied the origins of Venus figurines, prehistoric female goddess statuettes found throughout the world. Her research expanded 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 envisioned a scene from 150,000 years ago, when Mitochondrial Eve, the most recent matrilineal ancestor common to all humans, was estimated to have lived. Ten digitally rendered sculptures, meticulously realized in cast bronze or carved stone, beckoned 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 resembled both brains and Venus figures, and represented shamanic women of different ages. Seen and heard in an ominous state of polyphonic trance—part convocation, part choral lament—they prophesied the future extinction of their offspring, humankind. With allusions to animism, totemism, and spiritual travel, Humeau’s installation created 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 travelled to Kunstverein Hamburg in February 2019, and Museion, Bolzano in September 2019. The exhibition was curated by Natalie Bell, Associate Curator.