‘I want to show society’s excess through a surrealist and dystopian view of what we could become’ – ArtAttack meets Henri Charreau

ArtAttack meets one of London’s most exciting emerging artists, sculptor Henri Charreau. Brought up in Paris, Henri graduated from Chelsea School of Art and is currently doing an MA at Kings College London.


I had the chance to speak with Henri about his artistic practise and current projects.

How did you become involved in creating art?

As a child I was always dragged to museums and art exhibitions. These experiences helped trigger my fascination for the arts and especially for modern and contemporary art, even though I was too young to understand it. But I didn’t need to understand it and in many ways I still don’t need to; what primarily interests me in art is the experience and the feeling that it gives you. Even though I had never been skilled at drawing or painting, my creative ideas, which were often seen as weird, always pushed me to create. Instead of repressing these ideas and trying to fit within the box, I decide to embrace them. Later, I started with graffiti and got into street art, and its’ political engagement fed my creativity.

I have never been particularly academic even though many subjects such as philosophy, history and sociology really interest me. So once I graduated from high school, instead of getting into a business school, I decided to follow my creative instincts.

Rolling into the deep inner satisfaction. Metal, expanding foam, plaster, wax and foundation make up Part of the degree Installation at chelsea college of art 2015 size : 165 x 60 x 55 cm

 What inspires / motivates you?

The way humans are – both physically and mentally – and how we behave today. I am really interested in how Western society, based on economic growth and dictated by appearances, has changed our minds as well as our bodies. I think about the technological revolution we have known since our society entered modernity and about a future post-industrial era, one in which mankind seeks immortality through aesthetic perfection, but also an ergonomic comfort and an effortless life. I don’t have the desire to be a political artist, and I do not want to change the world, but I do want to show society’s excess through a surrealist and dystopian view of what we could become. The aesthetic I use is quite peculiar, abject and not really commercial, as I’m going against today’s aesthetic, which we are generally surrounded by.

My sculptures have this uncanny quality, which can make the viewer express and feel disgust as much as attraction, and in every work I produce I am looking for this feature.

humanizers detail
The Humanizers.. 2015-2016. Mixed media. Variables size (max 70cm height) Show at the crypt gallery, London

Why sculpture?

Simply because all my ideas always come in 3 dimensions and sculpture has always fascinated me. In my opinion, sculpture is so powerful and you will always interact differently with a sculpture than a painting or drawing. Sculptures have been used during mythology, religion and especially by many a dictator as objects to be worshipped. They also remind us of our own mortality. It’s also the experience that sculpture offers that pushes me to create in 3 dimensions, as you will either identify with a sculpture or see it as something bigger than yourself, depending on the size and material used in the piece.

Your sculptures often deal with the idea of the ‘post-human’ – can you say more about this concept?

Technology is progressing so fast and our bodies are becoming obsolete as everything natural is rejected and replaced with order, superficiality and perfection. Our society is dictating to us us and making us believe that beauty has to correspond to a certain standard. This is represented through celebrities and the media who we see as the only reality available. From the golden ratio to size zero models, we are seeking to reach, not through natural efforts, but instead with the help of a scalpel, drugs and even bio-engineering. I often wonder to what extent we are still human and what  part of us is still fully natural today.

Biotechnology and artificial intelligence are becoming more and more accepted, and the moral and ethical lines drawn by policies are progressing towards the democratisation of technology. When humans become GMOs (genetically modified organisms) like most of the food we already eat and when computers have entered the theory of singularity that Ray Kurzweil theorised, it will be the end of humanity as we know it. As Stephen Hawking recently pointed out in an interview with BBC (2015),  we will enter ‘post-humanity’ where our obsolete natural bodies will be more artificial than natural.

Today, we already want to become more efficient mentally and physically, our biological memory is ephemeral and has become digital. We take performance enhancing drugs and wear prosthetics. In fact, many bio-wearable technologies are already available on the market. All of this will have an enormous effect on our society and social inequalities will widen as technologies progress. Even though today, much of this technology is used help the disabled to walk or see for example, the question remains, when does healing stop and enhancing start? In my opinion if we carry on this path of progress, we will soon live in Huxley’s nightmare, directed by Stanley Kubrick, managed by George Orwell and populated by Shelley and Kafka’s monstrous creations. Certain academics and thinkers already think we are post-humans and cyborgs.

humanizers expo
The humanizers detail.. 2015-2016. Mixed media. Variables size (max 70cm height) Show at the crypt gallery, London

What do you feel the London art scene is like for emerging artists?

London’s art scene is amazing and lively – there is always something happening, and you can go to gallery private views almost every day of the week. Furthermore, emerging artists are constantly exhibiting or opening their studios to the public. Nevertheless, making it as an artist has never been so difficult in this globalised and digital world, and there are so many emerging artists, that most remain undiscovered. As we do not live in a magical world, where you get noticed out of the blue (unless of course you know the right person), artists today need to be more entrepreneurial than ever as now everyone can be an artist with a fingertip on their laptop.

Have you got any future projects / plans lined up?

It took me 4 years studying in art school to find my practice and what motivates me into making art, so I’m just getting started. I have recently been showcasing my sculpture at The Crypt Gallery in Euston with UCL art society, and I am now planning to curate a show with another emerging artist. I am also applying for prizes and residencies, as I want to get back on making life size sculptures that I think are more powerful and have the features and quality I look for when I make my art.

Triangulated. Part of the degree Installation at chelsea college of art. expanding foam, wax, foundation make up; approximatively. 60 x 50 x 50 cm

– Harry Dougall



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