Patricia Piccinini is an accomplished artist known for her mind-boggling hyperrealist sculptures. As far as themes and inspiration are concerned, there is a primary focus on scientific possibilities presented in the form of memorable imagery intended to shock and awe the viewer. A considerable portion of her work addresses concepts revolving around genetic mutation and possible ethical concerns with the continuation of humans manipulating nature. Piccinini’s art blurs the lines between science, humanity, and technology while providing the viewer with a surreal experience to make them question these accepted notions. Her works confront DNA, cloning, interspecies connections, diversity, scientific intervention, evolution, biotechnology, and their role in our present and future.
Even though heavy topics are addressed, these works also provide a passageway to a world with creatures outside our imaginations. Controversial and grotesque are words, which have been associated with Piccinini’s sculptures in the past – this is unsurprising since she presents creatures with qualities eerily reminiscent of human features (flesh, veins, hair). These objects look alive despite being made of silicone, acrylic and fiberglass. She originally started her art career drawing and painting but desired a better connection between the medium and the content. In general, people prefer being able to sort objects, animals, and humans into clear-cut categories, and these works deny that ability. Audiences are forced into a state of discomfort and vulnerability while engaging the mutations exhibited by these fabricated creatures. The insane level of realism could perhaps evoke anxiety and fascination with a range of strong emotion.
One of Piccinini’s most recent works was a commission for the Centenary of Canberra. The final creation, The Skywhale, is a hot air balloon in the shape of a tortoise-like creature with massive, dangling udders. The Skywhale is a creature with a slightly human face and a being that is somewhat natural but impossible. It’s apparent it wasn’t Piccinini’s desire to have the balloon blend in with its surroundings, but to create a work of art outside of a gallery or museum context to evoke wonder and force consumers to create their own narrative about what this creature is, why it is flying in the air, and what the meaning behind its existence is.
Piccinini finds a way to create an unexpected, tender beauty in the freakish and abnormal. While she leaves interpretation mostly up to the viewer, she does hope people are able to have an understanding or sympathy for the creatures she creates. Piccinini tackles the competing concepts of familiarity and strangeness with natural and artificial, as she wants consumers to ponder these concepts as deeply as they feel fit. She wants people to see the human-like qualities in these hybrid animals and be able to place themselves in her naturally artificial world. Piccinini perhaps exhibits an aspect of contemporary art that is the most striking, one, which is socially motivated and is a call for audiences to consider uncomfortable messages, celebrate differences and revel in interesting and relevant art.