Patricia Piccinini, artist, Curious Affection
My work is often rooted in things that already exist in the world, but I just follow them to their illogical conclusions.
In our media-saturated society, it takes a special kind of mind to see true beauty in the bizarre. After all, what’s life if we don’t step outside of our comfort zones once in a while? One person who has been able to master the art of changing perspectives and challenging traditional conceptions of beauty for more than 20 years is Patricia Piccinini, the Australian artist whose unmistakeable work is instantly recognisable. Through her hyperrealistic sculptures of curious hybrid creatures, Patricia invites people to consider the possibilities of a not-too-distant future that has been impacted by societal, technological and humanitarian shifts – for better or for worse. After much anticipation, Patricia’s groundbreaking exhibition Curious Affection has landed at GOMA with her signature style of thought-provoking work. We chatted to Patricia about her curious creatures, her hopes for the future and embracing weirdness.
What is the earliest memory that you have of creating art?
I didn’t grow up in a very arty family. However, I do have a memory of winning an art ‘competition’ while we were on the boat that brought us from Italy to Australia when we emigrated. I guess I must have been seven. I think it was a picture of a parrot.
Your art style blurs the lines of scientific fact and fiction – what influences your curious creations?
I am inspired by the world around me. I am inspired by the realities and possibilities of contemporary life. The beautiful, bizarre complexity of the natural world and beautiful and bizarre possibilities that contemporary life generates. My work is often rooted in things that already exist in the world, but I just follow them to their illogical conclusions.
Talk us through the process – from conception to completion, how do you create your fascinating sculptures?
I start with drawing, and as I develop the idea I start to think about how it might be best expressed – sometimes it stays a drawing, but I might feel a sculpture or video or installation would work better. I then work with my studio to transform the idea into a thing. I have this amazing group of people – who I’ve worked with for years – who each bring their extraordinary skills to one aspect of the process. My role is look after the idea, to make sure the final artwork stays true to the vision animates it.
We didn’t truly understand the concept of ‘curious affection’ until we experienced the exhibition. There is something incredibly strange yet endearing about each of your creatures – what do you hope for people to take away from Curious Affection?
I hope that they have both an emotional and an intellectual response to my work. I hope they see the beauty in the strangeness of this world and its creatures.
As much as we live in an amazing time in history, it’s also moving pretty fast and we’re doing a fair bit of damage. What do you think is the biggest threat to humanity?
It is difficult to stay optimistic in the face of all the challenges facing humanity but as a mother I’d rather talk about what might save us. I do think that our children will be much less destructive than we have been, and there is hope in that. I also think that there are some real opportunities in current research – we just have to make sure that that research benefits everyone.
Do you have a favourite work that you’ve ever created?
Having a favourite work would be like having a favourite child. I love them all but in different ways. If I had to choose, I’d say my favourite one is whichever one I have just finished making.
Elements of Curious Affection were created especially with GOMA’s spaces in mind. How did you go about curating an exhibit specifically designed for the venue?
As with any exhibition, I began with ideas. I started with the desire to create a world and a journey for the viewer. The space at GOMA is both vast and simple, so there are amazing opportunities to really do something amazing. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the height of the space, and create multiple perspectives on the journey, and everything sort of spun out from there. However, it’s easier said than done, which is why the way it ended up is so satisfying – as it is even better than I hoped.
Your art is the sort of style and subject matter that stays with people forever – what is one piece of art you’ve seen that has always stuck with you?
I saw David Altmejd’s exhibition The Flux and the Puddle in Montreal a few years back. It was such an extraordinarily complex and fascinating work. It sits on this very difficult and fine line between roughness and finish, and obscurity and legibility. It is the sort of wonderful thing that happens when artists are given opportunities.
Image credit: Phoebe Powell