So Many Questions: This Exhibition By Patricia Piccinini Is Confusing Yet Captivating

·7-min read
Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's works are all about evoking thoughts and feelings.
Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's works are all about evoking thoughts and feelings.
Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's works are all about evoking thoughts and feelings. | Photo: Nicholas Yong

Haunting yet mesmerising, ArtScience Museum’s newest exhibition will evoke all sorts of emotions within you. Enter contemporary Australian artist, Patricia Piccinini, who has been “art-ing” since 1995.

Opening on 5 August 2022, ArtScience Museum's newest exhibition, "Patricia Piccinini: We Are Connected", will evoke all sorts of emotions in you with the artist's visually striking and very intriguing artworks. Our advice? Enter with an open mind and open heart, and form your own interpretations when you view her works.

One thing’s for sure - you won’t leave the exhibit without feeling something, be it fear, joy, uneasiness, discomfort, hope, gratitude, sadness or a mix of everything. We HDB-bros-next-door definitely experienced a rojak of thoughts after touring the exhibition, so of course we had to spill it all here:

Photo: Ng Kai

The Field, 2018, and The Bond, 2016

Kai: Say real, I felt the hairs on my neck stand, seeing how realistic Patricia's sculptures are. And for this particular one, the thought of motherhood came straight to my mind. Honestly, the “chimera child” looks grotesque to me. But a mother’s love is a universal thing, and any mother would care for a vulnerable child, whether conventionally “beautiful” or not.

Nicholas: When we saw the preview for this sculpture at the media preview… my face was... 🤨 But after getting up close, the “chimera child” looks kinda cute leh. And, really, as I look at this art piece, I do sense the unconditional love of a mum.

Backstory

This work depicts a tender moment between a mother and her chimera child. It represents the idea of evolution and how we adapt ourselves to our environments, and questions what might be the future of our bodies in the age of biotechnology. Is this a new world where the borders between nature, different forms of life and different cultures are shifting? Will these new relationships force us to reconsider our attitudes to nature, the body, and ourselves?

Photo: Nicholas Yong

The Welcome Guest, 2011

Kai: Three words: What the heck? So much going on here LOL. I thought the sloth-like creature looked like a crossover between Dobby in Harry Potter and Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The peacock seemed so out-of-place for me, but I guess it’s to do with beautiful things created by the hands of Mother Nature. I think this is about the fearless curiosity of children, which allows them to approach “stranger things" without as much apprehension as an adult would have.

Nicholas: It’s like seeing how kids can happily be friends with others without a care in the world - that’s something that we should all emulate lah. The peacock though, I agree. No idea what it’s doing there but it sure is pretty.

Backstory

This work depicts an emotional connection between a sloth-like creature and a fearless little girl - modelled after Patricia's own daughter. At a distance, unknown creatures might seem uncanny or scary, but they can turn out to be strange and fabulous beings that want to create a close connection with others. Childlike curiosity and playfulness encourage us all to step away from fear of the unknown and to embrace difference.

Patricia also says she is often struck by how bizarre and extraordinary real creatures can be, like the peacock. Its tail feathers make it beautiful but also make it a target for predators. Maybe if it is good enough for nature to create beautiful things, then that is good enough for us.

Photo: Ng Kai

​​Sanctuary (detail), 2018 (the Bonobos)

Kai: Again, it’s uncanny how surreal her sculptures are - it reminds me of the “uncanny valley” effect (how a human face or behaviour can make something artificial seem eerily familiar). My iPhone 13 Pro’s camera even boxed their faces when I snapped some pics, effectively recognising them as human. This sculpture seems to highlight that intimacy can still be found among older people, and not everything is about the Hollywood glamour of youth and vitality. Personally, I would still PDA with my girlfriend, whether we’re 20 or 80.

Nicholas: You can say that again - but my bae doesn’t like PDA lol. This was the first piece I saw that warmed the cockles of my heart just looking at it. #couplegoals indeed.

Backstory

Inspired by the African Bonobo Ape, Patricia is fascinated with this species’ show of love and tenderness even among the older animals. “We rarely see depictions of intimacy in older people and our sexuality doesn’t diminish - it just changes… whatever that change can be, it can be really beautiful. To see this connection between two older creatures, for me, is really wonderful,” she says. She questions why in most cultures, intimacy is synonymous with youth.

Photo: Ng Kai

Black Velvet, Hunter, Highlander, 2005

Kai: A high heel? Iron Man’s arm? I had so many conflicting images in my head, and had to read the work’s description for a better understanding of where to start from. It’s really cool to me that she naturalises machines instead of the other way round - after all, we even have K-pop stars now that are entirely the product of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s all about machines being incorporated into the “natural” world.

Nicholas: I thought it was some robo sperm 😂 but yeah, when she said it was “naturalising machines”, I was thinking how cool it would be that these would grow into motorcycles. Then I felt a bit sad when I realised that the motorcycles would “die” when they grow old. Hey, that's sorta like machines of today too, in a way.

Backstory

While many of Patricia's artworks represent the idea of chimeras or artificial forms of nature, these works invert it, naturalising machines instead. They hint at a life cycle for machines that is closer to that of animals, evoking the "natural" place that tech occupies in our lives, and the growing role it plays in the natural world.

Photo: Ng Kai

Young Family, 2002

Kai: A sow. That was the first image that popped into my head. And Patricia's vision is astounding because this work is two-decades old, and she imagined creatures that would be bred for organ transplants. Today, we have the hearts of pigs used for heart transplants in human beings. And it’s definitely ethically questionable. But if you were the parent of a child who desperately needed such a transplant, would you say no? I wouldn’t.

Nicholas: Same same. I think any parent would do anything to save their child. I do feel sad for these creatures if they were bred for this purpose. Do they also have feelings and a conscience as well? Are we playing God? Brb, philosophical debate ongoing in my head rn.

Backstory

While there are bio-ethical debates about breeding animals for organ transplants, Patricia wants the focus to be on: “What are our responsibilities towards the things, or designs, we create? What will be their place in our ecosystem? Are they our workers, or are they our children?”

Photo: Ng Kai

Eagle Egg Men (The Philosopher, The Optimist, and The Astronomer), 2018

Nicholas: Remember months back when there weren't enough eggs in Singapore? These remind me of people hoarding what was available 🤣

Kai: NGL, it looks like testicles. But the eggs stood out to me, because again, a parent’s love is not gender-specific, and any father or mother should protect their young no matter what. In an age when we are embracing identities that are different from conventional ones, this sculpture really speaks volumes, especially when it comes to changing mindsets about gender-specific roles, such as those in parenting.

Backstory

Eggs are a sign of new life, and these creatures serve as a reminder that many animals, often male, by nature are programmed to protect their species. These sculptures blur the line between paternal and maternal bodies as vessels for child-bearing, presenting the idea that parenting and even childbirth may not be gender specific.

Tickets to and more info about "Patricia Piccinini: We Are Connected" can be found here.

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