vonPenny Rafferty 07.05.2015

Context is Half the Work

Seeing comes before words, and culture can be defined at any given moment.

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We live in an era of fasting, we fast to consume, void is style and we are looking at a future without life; an ecology without nature, kids wanting to quite this life and the next. As you walk past the sign, do not touch the walls or floors– they contain poison. One assumes the position of nihilism whilst entering into the exhibition *Echoes*. Then it hits you: the euphoric unnatural acidic glow of Marguerite Humeau’s new work.

A futuristic landscape with two large ferocious but sedated creatures pummelling pastel pink hippo milk not too dissimilar to what Scottish children would know as Kelpies. Kelpies are shape-shifting horses, water spirits said to haunt the rivers and streams of Scotland and by today’s standards one would perhaps coin them radical eco activists. As they naturally aid waterways and disposal of waste and pollution. But their hate for humanity and its destruction has lead them to luring children down into the depths, devouring them and only leaving a heart or a liver floating on the surface. Cleansing the planet of the next generation of polluters. Protecting these ethereal mammals are walls covered thickly in astringent yellow paint, containing the venom of Black Mamba snakes. It’s a cryptic trove that proves art is alive (very much alive). No longer belonging to the necrophilic academics, it has become– politically, philosophically and physically—the ‘now’.  Marguerite Humeau explains some of the concepts and ideas that inform her jaw-breaking works below.

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The Works seem like artefacts from the future..

The works belong to the past, to the present and to a speculated future. They are designed animals that have become products. They are “so designed” that they are almost unreal. They belong to a world that is not ours anymore.

There is a reference to the aesthetic vocabulary of futurism and streamlining. As Cristina Cogdell explains in “Eugenic Design: Streamlining America in the 1930s”, „streamline designers approached products the same way that eugenicists approached bodies”. Bodies, like products, can be engineered, improved to create a more perfect race. I am interested in exploring these relationships.

For this show I looked a lot at medical equipment, and milking machines, and at the transitions between machines and animals. When does a machine become an animal, and when does an animal become a machine? I am also a great fan of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and in how he shows supernatural phenomena on screen with almost no digital effects. I am facing the same challenge when designing the physical sculptures: how to create something physical that would feel and look unreal or supernatural? And of course I follow a lot of explorers’ adventures such as French explorer Sylvain Tesson.

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What was the Original Inspiration for the *Echoes*?

I found this telegram sent on the 5th of November 1922 by Egyptologist and archaeologist Howard Carter to his patron Lord Carnarvon: ‘at last have made wonderful discovery in valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact’.

It was just after the premiere of Cleopatra “That Goddess” at the Extinction Marathon at the Serpentine Galleries. I wondered: what would it feel like to enter a tomb that has been sealed for millennia? Then I remembered that Cleopatra’s tomb has still not been discovered…

I wanted to create a story around Cleopatra’s voice and to produce an exhibition that when you walked in, you would feel like you have entered Cleopatra’s tomb for the first time.

Echoes is an attempt to create a dialogue between two civilizations: Ancient Egypt and our current synthetic biology era. The show aims at discussing their common obsession for eternal life. Weirdly enough, while ancient Egyptians seemed to be obsessed with death, they were actually obsessed with life. Death in ancient Egypt was not an end but the transition from one state to another. This idea still seems relevant today, particularly when looking at the contemporary obsession with synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, cryonics, and biological engineering.

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Many Ancient Egyptian sacred animals – such as hippopotamus, alligators, or snakes – have been recently discovered to naturally produce ‘super’ bodily fluids. For example, the blood of Nile alligators is thought to be resistant to any infections including HIV, and the light-pink milk of hippopotamus contains strong antibiotics and antiseptics that could be used to heal a great number of human diseases. These various fluids could be considered as natural elixirs of life.

For more than six months, I have been on a quest to source these fluids from around the world and to engineer artificial animals that could produce them on an industrial scale. I imported hippopotamus milk from a Taiwanese zoo, human breast milk from California, and alligator blood from Australia. I also sourced artificial life enhancement products such as Rapamycin and Resvetarol from a body building equipment website.

Drawing inspirations from various deities and sacred animals from Ancient Egypt, the show presents three prototypes of animals that have been engineered to produce super natural bodily fluids: a King Cobra produces its own antidote, a two-headed hippopotamus “Taweret” has been enhanced with crocodile and human milking organs to produce a regenerating light-pink milk that has healing powers, an alligator “Muhammad Ali” has been created to produce a heavenly super blood resistant to any infection… while Cleopatra’s synthetic and disembodied voice sings in the background a love song in the nine extinct languages of her era.

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The press release claims this liquid can effectively heal any disease. Is this true in practice or only theory?

All the stories in the show are based on actual scientific research. Since the end of 2014 I have been researching and discussing with many scientists on the possibility to create such fluid.

For instance, on the 1st of December 2014 I received this email:

From: R******@******institute.com

To: margueritehumeau@gmail.com 

London, 01/12/2014

Dear Marguerite,

To answer your question: hippopotamus milk is bright pink. 

This is because it contains natural antibiotics that are … bright pink.

Your comparison to the Egyptian goddess Taweret is interesting. Taweret was 33.33% alligator, 33.33% human, 33.33% hippopotamus, right? 

Alligator blood is probably the most resistant blood (and the most ferocious immune system) that has ever been found in any living animal on this planet – it has even been nicknamed Muhammad Ali by the scientific community…, and hippopotamus milk has similar virus resistance abilities.

When both exposed to different infections including HIV, it was found that while human blood would kill 8 of the 23 strains of bacteria, alligator blood & hippo milk killed all 23 including antibiotic resistant MRSA.

A hybrid of these two animals would probably be able to generate a *super-milk*, that, when drunk, would certainly grant the drinker eternal youth, or at least the ability to resist any disease, and this for a long time.

You would have to constantly inject hormones to this creature (a contemporary Taweret?) so it could generate the milk artificially.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Best regards,

Professor R*

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The Works seem to have an ethereal intimacy…

Yes, I would like my works to be almost heavenly, unreal, like luminous apparitions or high-definition spectres. I would like them to be forms that could shine though time and travel through space, and that could maybe spread in various parallel worlds at the same time.

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Do you think our ideas of Human-ness have begun to change in this new techno era?

I am not sure if I can answer this question. But what I feel is that we are facing our own contradictions: we have dreams of eternal life but at the same time we have to face the finitude of planet Earth. We are trying to revive creatures with technologies that are themselves at the heart of what triggers extinction… These are ideas that I have been trying to explore.

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I recently recall an event posted on Facebook called “I’d rather be a Goddess than a Cyborg” by Coven Berlin, and it’s something that keeps resonating in my mind. Any thoughts on the matter?

A Goddess is an icon. Icons, like rumours, ideas, stories, are immaterial yet very powerful in people’s imagination and can potentially live for eternity as immaterial “beings”. A Cyborg might be a material version of that, maybe that could be eternal as well, as a physical being. But can a Cyborg travel through space and time?

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What’s, in your opinion, the world’s best-kept secret?

I am still really fascinated by the Turin Shroud and in how this image might have been “miraculously” produced.

SHOW CLOSES 6. June 2015.

Photos by Trevor Good.

Marguerite Humeau: *Echoes*

DUVE Berlin / Gitschiner Strasse 94/94a / (Entrance D, Floor 2) / 10969 Berlin/ Tu – Fr 11 – 18, Sa 12 – 16

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