Some thoughts about my practice
by Patricia Piccinini (2020)
I am interested in relationships: the relationship between the artificial and the natural, between humans and the environment. The relationships between beings, within families and between strangers. And the relationship between the audience and the artwork.
My work is never about one thing alone, it is always about a family or an ecosystem. Even when a creature is alone there is a relationship with the viewer.
Over the years, I have built up a sort of alternative world that exists just beyond the real world we live in. It is strange but familiar at the same time. It exists as moments, objects and images the overlap with the real world in gallery space. For this exhibition I wanted to bring this entire world to life.
This is a world where things mix and intermingle, where nothing stays in it's place. It is a world where animal, plant, machine and human unite and commingle. We have to ask ourselves, if it is so hard to figure out where one thing starts and another ends, can we really continue to believe in the barriers that separate us.
In a world where the cultural and the natural - the technological and organic - are ever more intermingled, this wilderness is my symbolic representation of a place where technology has become so natural that it takes on a life of it's own.
Obviously there are many kinds of relationships: impersonal relationships, business relationships, intimate relationships, conceptual relationships, difficult relationships, supportive relationships. My work spans a lot of these. Relationships are coloured by the emotional qualities that you bring to them. A relationship based on jealously or anxiety will have a very different flavour from one built on curiosity or care. I am especially interested in relationships built around empathy.
Connection and empathy are at the heart of my practice, and at the heart of this exhibition. Many of the works are beings of one sort or another; creatures. The word creature comes from middle english and means literally ‘something created’. My creatures are just that, imaginary beings that are almost possible. They are not always traditionally beautiful, but they always have a beauty and an honesty within them. They are more vulnerable than threatening. People sometimes find their strangeness off-putting at first, but they usually learn to see past this. The creatures literally appeal to the audience’s empathy, they entreat the viewer to look beyond their strangeness and see the connections.
Research has shown that emotions are learned. They are cultural as well as personal. There are some emotions that we don't have name for, or that only exist in other languages. I am particularly interested in a feeling that we don't seem to have a word for in English. I would describe it as the realisation of a feeling of warmth towards something that you were previously disturbed by. It is a sort of anti-xenophobia, and it is interesting to me that we have a word for xenophobia but not for this. 'Xenophilia' is something different, it is a love of this exotic. This is more about realising that the 'xeno' is not actually so strange.
If I want the viewers to get anything from my work it is this experience of a journey from disturbance to warmth.
It is no coincidence that the majority of my sculptures have the same hair and eye colour as I do. Skin colour and features are deeply meaningful and political and I am very uncomfortable with the implications of speaking for the experience of someone different from me. There are many wonderful artists of colour and I feel that it is not my place to attempt to represent them, their bodies or experiences. Also, in a practice that often mixes human and animal features I have to be very wary of the history of racist representations that use such tropes, as well as 'blackface'. I feel ok mixing my own features with those of animals, but I do not presume that I can do that with somebody else's features. It is sad for me is this leads to a reduced diversity in the work, because I honestly hope to reach out to everybody, but some sort of fake or token inclusivity is worse I think. I would love to include more divestitures in my work but it needs to be genuinely understood, and I would need an invitation.
I am interested in telling stories about the world we live in. That is one of the reasons I'm interested in science. Because science is the dominant language used to explain the world to us. In the past it was religion or myth, but now it is science that explains how the world works and also becomes the expression for how we want the world to be, or how we fear it might end up. At the very edge of science we end up talking about how the world might be, and that is wonderful place for an artist to explore.
In terms of art history, I am drawn to Surrealism and nineteen century social realism. For me, both of these movements are attempts to represent social reality at a time of dramatic change. The surrealists engaged with the cutting edge technologies of photography and psychoanalysis in a way that wen't beyond reproducing the objective appearance of reality and tried to get to its subjective core. It love the humour, emotion and strangeness in the work.
For me art is about taking you somewhere new or showing you the world you know but in way you might not have imagined. Certainly I want the viewer to think, but I don't think they can think without feeling. I am interested in creating an experience that has a number of levels, where wonder and amazement lead to thought and insight.