Recently I had the privilege of an intimate tour of Curious Affection, Patricia Piccinini’s new show that opened on Friday 23rd at GOMA, lead by the artist herself. It felt like our small group of rag-tag journalists and media types were transformed into pilgrims being lead by a Sage on a spiritual journey through which could only be described as a very moving insight into not only what is it is to be human but what is the matrix of life.
I, like many others, had a certain expectation of quirk, novelty and shock, but once in the gallery this was all turned on its head and into a highly emotional experience, which took me by surprise!
Piccinini’s Curious Affection is a monumental achievement, a retrospective of the last twenty years as well as an enormous new site specific work making it the largest exhibition of an Australian artist ever presented by GOMA.
I’ve always had a deep fascination and I guess a personal connection with Patricia Piccinini’s work. Viewers often referred to Piccinini on seeing a self portrait I did of myself breast feeding my twin babies, because it had the same surreal effect where the image appeared to be an inconceivable feat leaving the viewer with feelings of surprise, discomfort and humour.
Madonna’s Milk 2005 Bec Mac
So it was a great experience to talk to the artist about her work and even after an extensive two hours of interviews and media she continued to be so lovely, curious, present and I must say penetrating. She explained “A lot of the ideas (in the show) are quite cerebral, about how we relate to difference and the artificial, they are tough intellectual ideas but I am trying to talk about them in a language that is emotional.”
Initially I was quite challenged by some of the life-like mythological and surreal transgenic creatures with recognisable features, orifices and hair, but all in the wrong places. I wasn’t sure what I was really looking at, but surprisingly my near repulsion turned to a nurturing connection. How are you doing this I asked a little exasperated? “We are pulled in because we can empathise and we are pushed away because its different, not natural, repulsive, unknown and so this dynamic happens where in the pull and push a space is opened up.”
So are you exploring what our notion of love is I queried? “Maybe in that space there is room for love and hopefully there is room for love because that’s what we all want, actually need and thrive with.”
POPSART: Full interview Patricia Piccinini
Piccinini’s reference to mothers and maternal relationships is strong in the work and with a new refreshing take on it, in which the concept of mother is hero, this is not part of our cultural understanding or the way we build a picture of what it is to be a mother, is she redefining maternity? “I’m trying to valorise maternity it’s a big part of my life and it’s fundamental but it just doesn’t exist in politics, media, education and it deserves a big space as it’s fundamental to everything to evolution to the world.”
For me this is the core of the work as it challenges the binary notions of pro-creation that are loaded with judgments of what is right and wrong. Motherhood can be hard, painful and not just pretty shades of pastel pink and blue, there are various ways children can be conceived including IVF, there are also numerous genetic disorders both inherited or through gene mutation that can alter to enormous degrees how an individual exists and responds to the world. More than ever, science and technology are intervening not only in our health and longevity but also with who we are actually are.
Piccinini is so unique as she has explored the complexities of these issues through her art with a great understanding of the science. But I think from the perspective of a woman who is also a mother. So she challenges the public on an emotional, not just intellectual level, to consider the implications and potentially the acceptance of the other.
The Bond 2017 and Patricia Piccinini
Piccinini goes onto say that she is creating these stories, and making a space for people to bring in their own stories, and animate this space in a way that’s not so closed down or histrionic. This is where I think the “magic” or my inexplicable emotional connection happened, as my own experience of motherhood was traumatic and took me into a world of genetic disorder, disability and scientific intervention which I could externalise into the theatre that Piccinini had created. It was profoundly comforting and allowed me to understand my own story with greater empathy as well.
Finally, if Piccinni’s work is about our relationship to technology and the mutability of this, does she think we are heading in the right direction? “We can’t stop technology I am interested in talking about the ethical implications of scientific innovation and what that means. I think in the next two decades CRISPR (a tool that enables scientists to target a specific area of a gene) will be part of every birth that could probably be a good thing, but it might be very homogenising.”
Her 2016 exhibition Consciousness drew a bigger audience (across three venues in Brazil) than any other contemporary artist in the world that year, I hope as many Australians get to experience the work here at GOMA.
Featured Image: Kindred 2017 Patricia Piccinini