One Night Love
Originally published: One Night Love Catalogue
by Linda Michael (2001)
Recently I heard a talk where a Buddhist teacher presented the concept of contaminated happiness - as a guide for accepting that it is OK to take the good as it comes. A very appealing concept. A week earlier I had heard a lecturer suggest that it is only love of the imperfect that is pure because if love was dependent on the perfection of its object, love itself would be contaminated. Such musings about perfection and compromise also provide the conceptual framework for this exhibition. Patricia Piccinini's interest in compromise is focussed on our life as consumers, on how we are both seduced and repelled by our everyday interactions with things in the world. For example cars. We know they are bad - they pollute the atmosphere, are weapons of destruction and yet we think them beautiful, sexy, necessary objects. They are the contaminated, imperfect objects of our love.
Oxmoronic title though it is, One Night Love promises a moment of perfection. It might only be temporary, but it is more than a one night stand. On the surface there is no compromise here. Yet we believe that in a perfect world love is forever. Piccinini's objects embody both this promise and the compromise of one night love. They perpetuate the illusion of plenitude and satisfaction offered by consumables, yet undermine it too.
In our imperfect world, love and happiness are temporary, compromised, contaminated. But we can accept little nuggets of one night love. As Piccinini describes, her works are 'about compromise - about being able to find beauty in a world which can never be perfect'. She employs professional car modellers and custom painters to make objects whose shapes and surfaces are unmistakably car-like, using these bite-sized chunks of car to explore what it is that makes us willingly take the bad with the good. Is it just the seductive look and feel of things, an immediate appeal to the senses, that assuages guilt and gives us temporary enjoyment and satisfaction?
Piccinini‘s Car Nuggets GL look like a cross between Barbara Hepworth sculptures and motorcycle design. Biosphere meets autosphere. Organic rounded shapes are transformed by a lurid, almost ugly paint-job, presenting super-reflective surfaces that deflect our desire - authentic modernist to over-the-top pomo in a few coats of paint. These nuggets belong to the consumer world of junk food and freeways, the familiar world of Pop Art. What is it that makes this world so appealing?
Unlike cars, these nuggets are perfect because they don't have the potential to kill and pollute, but have only good car attributes. The bad bits have been bred out of their genes. On the surface they have very little to do with compromise. They are uncompromisingly luxurious, surfaces smooth, shiny, sexy and streamlined - perfectly made and detailed by highly skilled artisans. Our sense of touch responds to their curves, our sight to their photogenic resplendence. They are the ultimate consumables, a pet for the 21st century. And yet while they invite a sensual response, their reflective, cold surfaces are indifferent to our desire.
Like many of Piccinini's images and objects, they are deeply ambivalent. On the one hand these nuggets are special, a world away from the MOR style that characterises the bland contemporary car or an homogeneous suburbia where no-one wants to stand out. They are not minimal, but excessive. Even the nuggets painted in a single colour are highly decorative, their surfaces painted either in 'Kamelion Kolor' or a depthless pearly sheen. Piccinini's customised painting style amplifies the sensual attractions of car, as a concentrated object of suburban passion. Created by revheads under the direction of the artist, the nuggets celebrate a kind of obsession rooted in dangerous and virile pursuits - speeding, hooning and shaggin'. They express in gorgeous detail this style of one night love, of living in the moment.
The generic flame and skull motifs had their beginnings in WW1, custom painted onto helicopters to assert bravery in the face of the dangers they represent. Later painted on racing cars, panel vans and hotted-up cars, the licking flames signified burning rubber, burning desire, and freedom.
Here these motifs have become symbolically redundant. The objects they decorate have no speed, no fumes, no danger. Like chicken nuggets, they are safe and bland, their blandness only just disguised by surface embellishments. Nuggets are an emasculated form of car - bland biomorphs with no grunt, having only aestheticised suggestions of wheel, funnel, fender etc. What makes them so appealing, so consumable - an emphasis on surface and look - is also what reduces them. They compromise manly embellishments that originally signified a lack of fear, and their spherical self-containment implodes a car's phallic energy, making it safe but impotent. Perhaps, as Ted Colless has described Piccinini's SO2, the car nuggets present a similarly 'phantasmatic image of the sexuality that is ambivalently asserted and denied - induced and abhorred - in Piccinini's biosphere'. 1
The image-bank of car customisation is similar to that of the tattoo parlour. Both are concerned with decorating a surface and asserting subcultural values against those of a wider society - though the often generic nature of their aesthetic contradicts this aim. Piccinini works above a tattoo parlour, and discovered that the most commonly requested tattoo is the image of a loved person, or a hero - usually a dead male rock star. Such a tattoo represents a kind of blind faith that is the opposite of compromise. In Piccinini's ambivalent auto-biosphere, who could belong as such a talisman?
Piccinini chose to portray Carlo Guiliani, the young protester killed by Italian police outside the G8 meeting in Genoa on 20 July 2001. Guiliani was a martryr to the anti-globalisation movement ('We will never forget') and yet also perceived even by a sympathetic indymedia as a troublemaker involved with drugs and weapons who gave this cause a bad name. His life became a public symbol of the reality of compromise, an appropriately ambivalent image for Piccinini. Simultaneously martyr, aggressor and coward, he could be neither right nor wrong. Piccinini repeats his image in tribute, a mark not of absolute value but of relativity. Because he lost his life for an ideal, but was not perfect or pure, Guiliani could be one night love for Piccinini, a hero to believe in just for one day.