Australian resident Patricia Piccinini was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Her wide scope of sincere and disconcerting work encompasses sculpture, photography, video, and drawing, all the while examining the increasingly blurred boundaries between the artificial and the natural as they exist in contemporary culture. Her surreal drawings, human/animal hybrids (cast in rumpled, freckled, silicone “skin”) and vehicular creatures question the ways contemporary technology and culture have altered our understanding of what it means to be a human in present-day society. As stated on her website, “ethics are central, but (Patricia’s) approach is ambiguous and questioning rather than moralistic and didactic.”
Rather than containing ominous messages, the artist’s creations generate conflicting responses in the viewer – aversion coupled with empathy, and uneasiness paired with a morbid, yet childlike curiosity. In a 2014 interview with “The Condition Report” Patricia stated, “My work aims to shift the way that people look at the world around them, and question their assumptions about the relationships they have with the world. I am especially interested in things that fall outside of our traditional ideas of normal or beautiful, or that step across the boundaries that we erect between things.”
In the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder,” (1960) attractiveness is defined as a face with a distorted, ape-like countenance, and those who fall outside this spectrum of “beauty” (such as those who would be considered attractive by today’s standards) are outcast to an island “ghetto” with others of “their kind.” Patricia’s work asks, “Might society shift in the future, resulting in a world such as this?”
Looking at Patricia’s 2016 hyper-realistic sculpture “Graham,” constructed of silicone, fiberglass, human hair, and clothing, one is first struck by the shocking realism portrayed (in which every vein, every hair, every ripple of flesh is truly believable) and secondly, one must ride out their subsequent reaction to the being which can be a truly enlightening experience. Are you appalled, are you curious, what’s this creature’s story of origin, will our future produce genetic mutations such as Graham, and if so, what are we going to do about it?
In actuality, Australia’s transport accident commission collaborated with Piccinini (as well as a trauma surgeon and crash investigator) to design and build Graham to be the physical embodiment of an inconceivable idea: he is the only ‘person’ designed to survive today’s high-impact road traumas. Interestingly enough, this project was the realization of an effort to highlight the susceptibility of the human body to the forces of a car crash – its goal being to reduce deaths and injuries on the road.
In a 2007 excerpt from the ‘(tender) creatures,’ exhibition catalogue, by Laura Fernandez Orgaz, Patricia stated, “…it is not really science itself that I am interested in, as much as how it impacts people. I think my creatures are actually more mythological than scientific.” Her creations are chimeras, the artist states, designed and built to explain the mysteries of contemporary society. “Like most myths, they are often cautionary tales, but they are also often celebrations of these extraordinary beasts.”
Patricia’s installation work produces a similar array of emotions and questions, within, of course, a grander space. In reference to “Perhaps the World is Fine Tonight,” a traditional museum-style diorama-type installation the artist created for a gallery in Hobart, Tasmania, Patricia writes, “For me this is a very experiential work, rather than a clearly narrative one. It is very much about creating a space that enables a very special sort of experience for those who view it, transporting them to a world in between the real world and the world of dreams.”
In reference to her 2009, sculpture titled “Bottom Feeder” Patricia makes a statement that captures both the message and the magic in her work: “As with much of my work, part of the dynamic revolves around the way that the work challenges the viewer to empathize with the creature. On so many levels, the Bottom Feeder is a …’other’ and a lowly one at that. However, there is a certain dignity in his modest status and role. He is marked and scarred and somewhat scruffy, and his most attractive feature is his absurd bottom, but beneath his strangeness there is something that might be valued and loved.”
Patricia’s upcoming exhibitions include February 2, 2018 to March 18, 2018, “Soft Core” at Shepparton Art Museum in Australia, February 3, 2018 to March 18, 2018, “The Exodus of Ordinary” at The Vivian in New Zealand.