Earthseed exhibition explores altered states at White Cube Paris

A VISIONARY science fiction author marks the starting point for a new exhibition at White Cube Paris. Octavia E. Butler, who spent most of her life in California and was the first writer of the genre to receive the renowned MacArthur Fellowship (also known as the Genius Grant), produced novels that were eerily accurate in their forecasts of life as we know it today. In her Earthseed series, published in the mid-1990s, a society living in 2024 has been ravaged by climate change and economic disparities, as well as growing religious fundamentalism. Butler’s heroine, Olamina, who suffers from a condition that enables her to feel the pain of everybody around her, leads a movement she terms Earthseed, following the destruction of her home. This is a civilisation in ruins—and Earthseed is a form of survival.

Installation view of Earthseed at White Cube ParisInstallation view of Earthseed at White Cube Paris

The works in this exhibition are perhaps less concerned with the dire consequences of a life that has been ruined, instead focusing on the possibilities offered by the female figure—as a powerful protagonist who takes on alternative realities, as well as a portal for transformative thinking.

Julie Curtiss makes brilliantly-composed, witty works which shine through in this display. Surrealist in nature, her vivid paintings feature women whose bodies have been composed from rows of densely-packed coils of hair (Bathsheba, 2021). Look again, though, and those rounded forms have transitioned into cockroaches (Altered States, 2021). These strangely sensual figures engage with ideas of metamorphosis, where animal and human attributes mix, and are frequently depicted together, as a pair, reflective of a kind of matriarchal union. In other instances, such as the delicate watercolour Anthill (2022), the human body seems to have been positioned within a pre-dystopian framework, where nature and intuition prevails.

Julie Curtiss, Altered States (2021)Julie Curtiss, Altered States (2021)

For her Venus sculptures, which discreetly occupy the perimeter of the gallery, Marguerite Humeau goes back in time: specifically, 150 thousand years into the past, when our most recent common matrilineal ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve, is thought to have lived. The London-based artist has been interested in the theory that humans who existed during this era may have ingested animal brains, which were enjoyed for their psychoactive effects.

Through her streamlined hybrid forms of the female body, cast in bronze or carved in stone, where the configurations of the brain meld with bodily contours, Humeau explores how these experiences might have helped to establish human life, as a distinct entity from that of other primates.

Marguerite Humeau, Julie Curtiss and Loie Hollowell in Earthseed at White Cube ParisMarguerite Humeau, Julie Curtiss and Loie Hollowell in Earthseed at White Cube Paris

For Loie Hollowell, the female body is recognised for its magical power to produce another human being. The American painter’s anatomically-focused compositions revolve around powdery spherical shapes which have been arranged to mirror tantric art forms. These symbolic circles draw on the mechanisms that create life on earth – as well as the seed from where everything begins.

Loie Hollowell, Belly, breast, face, brain, milk ducts, placenta (2022)Loie Hollowell, Belly, breast, face, brain, milk ducts, placenta (2022)

by Derby Jones

‘Earthseed: Julie Curtiss, Loie Hollowell, Marguerite Humeau’ is on display at White Cube Paris until 21 January.

By appointment only: to arrange a visit, contact