Installation view (‘Bunker’, ‘Atlas’, ‘Bootflower’, ‘Nectar’)
Installation view (‘Offspring’, ‘Progenitor’, ‘Surrogate’, ‘Bootflower’, ‘Kindred’)
Installation view (‘Unfurled’)
The Welcome Guest (‘The Welcome Guest’)
Installation view (‘Kindred’)
Installation view (‘The Builder’, ‘Kindred’, ‘Offspring’, ‘Progenesis’, ‘Surrogate’)
Teenage Metamorphosis (‘Teenage Metamorphosis’)
The Young Family (‘The Young Family’)
The Avian Trilogy (‘The Avian Trilogy (Eagle in flight with helmets)’, ‘The Avian Trilogy (Nest-bound hummingbird)’, ‘The Avian Trilogy (Twelve eggs at rest)’)
Installation view (‘Eagle Egg Man (The Optimist)’, ‘Eagle Egg Man (The Philosopher)’, ‘Eagle Egg Man (The Astronomer)’)
The Bond (‘The Bond’)
Installation view (‘The Awakening’, ‘Self Portrat’)
The Awakening (‘The Awakening’)
The Field (‘The Field’, ‘The Strength of On)
Installation view (‘The Field’, ‘Gazellmet (Oscar)’)
Installation view (‘The Field’)
Installation view (‘The Couple’)
“Your Place Is My Place.“ Rosi Braidotti in conversation with Patricia Piccinini for En Kærlig Verden exhibition at Arken, Denmark, February 2019.
RB: I feel like I knew Patricia well before I actually met her. The sense of familiarity is due not only to the fact that we are both Italian-born Australians and proud Melbournians, but also to the topics and research themes that preoccupy us. In many ways, we inhabit similar intellectual landscapes. We share a life-long interest in issues of embodiment, difference, the politics of diversity, feminism and anti-racism human. We are both fascinated by, but also critical of technological interventions upon human, non-human and post-human entities. We are driven by a passionate, almost stubborn belief in the political as well as ethical force of creativity in all its manifestations. We both cultivate and practice conceptual, artistic, media-driven, but also musical, gastronomic and convivial acts of creation. We are profoundly enamoured of life and deeply grateful for all it has brought us, in good as in difficult times. We seem to be zigzagging across the same concerns and places.
When I finally did meet Patricia in person, only last year, it felt like a family reunion. Non only did we discover that both originated from Northern Italy and emigrated to Australia in young age, but it also turns out that we basically grew up in the same neighbourhood of Melbourne. We lived just a few streets away from each other in space, but decades apart in time. There was something almost uncanny for me in the experience of visiting Patricia and her lovely family in Clifton Hill and her amazing studio in Collingwood. These are the inner suburbs of Melbourne that, with Carlton and Fitzroy, formed the core of the old Little Italy. This is where I came of age. This was my home then. Patricia’s home now. Our place.
Our conversations reflected this feeling of mutual recognition. Talking with Patricia combined flows of emotions, with philosophical speculations, aesthetic arrest with hard-nosed facts about techniques, bits of theory with chunks of memories. And above all, it was a joy.
RB: Your work addresses in a critical but also deeply emotional manner, the status of those who are otherwise embodied as a result of massive technological interventions. You bring both your classical art history background and your feminist ethics of difference to bear on a double challenge: to get the viewers to both acknowledge and alter their preconceived negative ideas about those who look different. What drives your ethical passion for difference?
Wow, that’s a really interesting question. Although my work is not about me, it is, to a certain degree, informed by my experiences. I think the answer to this question goes back to my childhood experience as a migrant. I arrived in Australia when I was seven, and I was really aware of being different - not speaking the same language as the people around me, not having any extended family. Throughout my childhood I really wanted to ‘fit in’. Even as an artist I never wanted to be that stereotypical crazy, bohemian Artist who sits outside of culture and judges it. The truth is that I am a woman, working class and a migrant, but I never really thought of myself this way. I was lucky enough to grow up in a place where that didn’t stop me from living the life I wanted, but I have never lost that memory of the discomfort of feeling different. I can’t help but feel empathetic towards anyone who doesn’t fit in.
In many ways, I think that the figures in my work are metaphors for the disenfranchised or the excluded. The ‘beauty’ or ‘ugliness’ of these creatures depends very much on what notion of normality you believe in. The challenge to accept them, is the same challenge we feel to accept any thing - or anyone - who is different. Hopefully, in thinking about the world I present, the viewer will be able to think about the real world around them, and where that world draws the line between normal and strange, or desirable and unacceptable.
Talk a bit more about your humanism, the empathy you extend to devalorised others. To a certain extent the hybrid creatures you create are more humane than most humans. They move us beyond the consumeristic objectification of their otherness and evoke empathy and understanding. Please comment on this: is it a sort of humanisationof their existence, or something else? Is itcondescending to attribute human qualities to these non-human entities, as if we were somehow superior ? I have described your work elsewhere as a trans-species and therefore posthuman relational ethics of care: would you agree to that?
I sometime jokingly describe my work as “animal-pomorphic”. It’s not about attributing human characteristics to animals as much as recognising our shared ‘animalness’.
So, you could call it is a veiled and non-violent critique of anthropocentrism. Also to a certain extent, a call for a new alliance between humans and non-humans, because we have so much in common.
Absolutely! Empathy and care are good examples of qualities that once regarded as uniquely human but have now been found in a number of other animals. So I am a humanist in this respect. However, I am very critical of humanism’s desire to separate humans off from other animals and this from “Nature”. I question such desire. Why would you want to uphold this distinction in the first place? What do you gain from it, other than a misplaced and misleading sense of human self-aggrandizement? This is important to me because when you divide the world like this, with people on one side and nature on the other, you create an opposition that is dangerous, false and unhelpful.
This division is dangerous because it allows us to treat the world as a resource to plunder and destroy, resulting in the ecological devastation we experience today. This is unhelpful because if you ask people to choose between themselves and 'nature' they will usually choose themselves, so we need to find a way that people can choose themselves through nature. But it is also false because there are no people without nature, both because we rely on the world around us for survival but also because we and every other animal on the planet have always changed than environment through our actions. We need to find a new way to think about it because otherwise we just have to choose between destruction or shame, neither or which help.
In your work, the Western tradition of discriminating against monstrous bodies joins forces with an assessment of the pervasive influence of technology in our intimate life and our biological, reproductive destiny. How did you come to conceive of this complex project? How does this project address aesthetic issues of form and structure in relation to established institutional norms? Are you proposing a new deal between nature and culture, art and technology?
That is absolutely true. I vehemently believe that none of those traditional nature/culture type dichotomies hold up to scrutiny. It is both ironic and appropriate that it is technology that makes this the clearest. Human/animal - look at the DNA and you can see the continuity rather than the separation. Artificial/natural - try and work out if a cow is artificial because it is the product of artificial breeding, and often IVF or natural because it is an animal. Nature/culture - all animals from ants to humans to zebra construct their environments and their social structures, so what could be more natural than culture. What is artificial is these distinctions, which serve very specific, human-centric ends - to make us feel ok about the way we exploit the world, animals and often other people around us. We must find a new way of thinking about nature that includes us - as we are - but is not just for us.
So, do you consider your creatures as ‘hybrids’? What do you call them? How do you choose their names or titles?
That is a really good question. When I’m talking about them, I have a lot of difficulty choosing a noun for them. Strictly speaking they are hybrids, and I very much connect with the narrative of ‘hybridity’ that comes from post-humanist thought, but I don’t tend to use the term because I feel it makes them seem less ‘whole’. Although, I don’t mind it when other people use it. While ‘Mutant’ is probably accurate, to me it seems a bit derogatory and ‘sci-fi’, so I don’t use that. Technically, they are ‘chimeras’ but I tend to use ‘creature’, because in English that has the sense of both ‘an animal’ and also ‘something that has been created’. I also like ‘being’, again because of its double meaning, both ‘the state of being in existence’ but also the sense of an entity with a soul and intelligence.
You can see from this I’m interested in names with more than one meaning, and this extends to the titles of the works. I spend a lot of time thinking about the titles, and they always allude to the various levels of meaning in the work. For example, ‘Kindred’ suggests we are looking at a family group but also they themselves are in some ways our ‘kin’, related to us.
What is your own relationship to technology? Having had the opportunity to visit your amazing workshop/studio, I am aware of how sophisticated your technological infrastructure is - you are a digital artisan in some respect. Can you talk a bit more about this, and the team of specialists you work with?
I very much sit down in my studio with a desire to create something and I work from there. I am always listening and reading and researching the kinds of things that interest me and often the germ of an idea will come from there; from an anecdote or a news article of whatever. However it is a long way from an idea or a story to an artwork, and that is where the studio comes in. I been lucky enough to collect this wonderful group of people around me who I work with to fabricate the works. They are an amazing group of fabricators who work with me on all aspects of the production: 3D design and outputting, texture sculpting, moulding, casting, painting and hair punching - from idea to eyelashes. I've collaborated with some of these people there for more than ten years, so we have a real commitment to each other, and a deep understanding of the project we are engaged in. They are all incredibly skilled and creative, and some of them are artists in their own right, so the studio can provide them with support as well as employment. I definitely feel a real responsibility towards them.
The freedom that I get from the studio is amazing. It is both a traditional artisan’s workshop and a high-tech lab. We work with whatever methods will best communicate the ideas, from 3D printing to hand-painting. We really can make pretty much anything. I don’t physically make the work myself, but I am so much closer to the processes than I would be if things were fabricated externally. I'm am there at every step so there is flexibility and the possibility to experiment but at the same time we've all worked so closely together for so long that we have a shared understanding and language which makes things very efficient.
Ecological disaster in the era of the Anthropocene has taken all the euphoria out of the notion of technological progress and the drive towards the mastery of nature. Many talk about extinction. Science and technology - far from guaranteeing a safe for humanity, are threatening the sustainability of our future. How does your work contribute to a new relationship to the human, the non-human, the inhuman, the trans- and post-human in an era that is defined both as the fourth industrial revolution and the sixth _extinction? What if those hybrid others, far from being relics of a distant genetic past, mark instead the path of our evolutionary future?
I guess I see them more as metaphors for the present rather than suggestions for the future. On one level they are catalysts - the deliberately incorrect answers to questions that I hope my audience will be inspired to discuss. I don’t really think that genetically engineering a surrogate to help breed more wombats is the best solution to the problem of their extinction. However, it starts a conversation about the problem that this creature has been designed to solve: Why would we need such a creature, and what might be a more realistic response to the problem it presupposes?
On another level they are expressions of what I find beautiful, interesting and hopeful in the world: they embody a difference that for me is a strength, although it gets coded negatively by society and cultural norms. I want to question those norms. So many of the world's problems come from the process of separating things into the 'pure' and excluding anything that is deemed other than that. That's pretty much the definition of racism. The hybridity in my work is an acknowledgement that there is no 'pure' and that we all exist on a continuum. When you do that it is much more difficult to exclude or malign. It is much easier to destroy an environment that we feel separate from, much easier to exclude, or even eliminate, humans that we consider different from and inferior to us. My interest in hybrid forms comes from a belief that there is no 'pure', just a complex and diverse world that we are part of. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no ‘pure’, and there never was.
What we have learned from DNA is that pretty much everything alive traces back to one origin, and that therefore we - and apes, and salmon, and even bananas - share a remarkable amount of genetics in common. I really love this idea, because it is about commonality rather than division. That’s what I’m interested in; the way that our diversity can be our commonality.