French artist Hadrien Gérenton, celebrated for his evocative artwork, intricately weaves themes of environmental impact and responsible consumption into his creations. A graduate of De Ateliers in 2017, Gérenton's profound works now grace collections such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Dutch KPMG collection. They serve as a testament to the power of art in conveying critical messages.
At the heart of Gérenton's pieces lies a recurring motif – the portrayal of lizards, notably the Asian water monitor and Komodo dragons. Far beyond mere artistic expression, these sculptures carry a heavy message, they offer viewers an opportunity to contemplate the delicate balance between human existence and the often-overlooked lives of the creatures he portrays. Most important of all, these works also shed light on the dark side of international wildlife trade, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land and Responsible Consumption and Production.
Take for example his lizard and cacti piece that he had exhibited at the 100 artistes dans la ville, a public art exhibition held by the MOCO (Montpellier Contemporain) art foundation throughout the city of Montpellier, France. The playful lizard and cacti remind audiences of the possibility of other existences that are far removed from human reality. As lizards and cacti habitats, such as swamps and deserts, are often inhospitable for humankind. Yet, just like these sculptures in the middle of a French city, they have been forcefully brought to live within humankind’s habitats that they deem inhospitable.
In 2022, the wide distribution of Asian water monitors has also led to invasive species concerns in the United States, especially in places that have ready access to the Caribbean and Latin America. Therefore, the exploration of Gérenton's distinctive artistic realm, allows viewers to delve into the profound implications of human trade and consumption activities on the lives of very much real lizards.
In his 2022 show at Tars Gallery, Bangkok, Gérenton also showcased Late Harvest 1 which featured a lizard hand holding prickly plants. This piece recalls a sensory experience that is yet again different from what humankind is used to, as lizards are perfectly able to navigate spiny and thorny stems and barks while humans cannot. This particular piece affirms that when it comes to nature, the human way of life is not always the best one.
Gérenton, who previously won the Mécènes du Sud open call, has also been known for his portrayal of groups of cute monitor lizards that are tied to elements of the space they are exhibited in, much like the piece at the Emerige in Paris. These monitor families, as he calls them, appear to be pulling at the museum columns.
They can be innocently read as a call to action for these spaces, encouraging them to mimic a lizard’s ability to regenerate and therefore capacity for change. Yet, these sculptures also act as grim reminders of the relentless shackles of exploitation that the real-life counterparts of these lizards are subjected to in the face of international wildlife trade. This global trade of Asian water monitors has not only caused damage to the environment but has also caused direct damage to human health.
A 2021 study published in the United States National Library of Medicine, has showcased that the widespread trade of Asian water monitors in Indonesian traditional markets is one of the reasons behind the transmission of sparganosis, tapeworm infection in humans, showing yet another dark side to the international wildlife trade of the Asian water monitors.
For Gérenton, "Creating objects is a way to generate new situations by setting up fantasized codes. More or less empirically assembled items bring the sculptures closer to strange objects, where the boundaries between presentation and representation, original and fake, real and virtual are blurred.”
Hence, for him, the monitor lizards serve as both agents of amusement and reflection, compelling viewers to reconsider the intricacies of human impact on ecosystems and the ethical dimensions of international trade. In Gérenton's hands, the playful and enigmatic nature of his sculptures transcends mere artistic expression, offering a poignant commentary on the delicate balance between human existence and the often-overlooked lives of the creatures he portrays.