Patricia Piccinini @ Haunch of Venison

Haunch of Venison showcases the first UK solo exhibition of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. Titled ‘Those who dream by night’, it comprises of a video installation and a wide selection of sculptures made between 2005 and 2012, all spanning the gallery’s ground and first floor space.

The viewer is welcomed by the tranquil soundtrack of the video ‘From Within’ (2012); a woman sits in the heart of a cave-like environment surrounded by strange speleothem formations when suddenly a viscous fluid emerges through her mouth gradually occupying the immediate area. She is the creator of her very own habitat, a cocoon constructed for her protection. A sculpture in the same room (‘Nectar’, 2012) resembles the same liquid extracted by an organic lump. As we walk further in, a series of sculptures are in line with the same narrative. A closer inspection of the amorphous creatures reveals their corporeal nature. The representation of parts of the human body and especially those reminiscent of genitals are clear references to the production and fertility process. The ‘Ghost’ (2012) and ‘Sphinx’ (2012) works are great examples of Picinnini’s subject matter. Her wall pieces (‘Hair Panels’) are a series of silicon and fiberglass ‘paintings’ with fertility organs and what it seems to be growing human hair. Her immense interest in technological advancement and its closer relationship with the human idiosyncrasy is humorously depicted in ‘The Lovers’ (2011); two scooter bikes are liberated from their objective function, have been injected with feelings and have fallen in love with each other. The second floor is dominated by ‘The Carrier’ (2012) a powerful silicone duo of an elderly woman carried by perhaps the ‘older us’, a creature from the beginnings of the human family tree. The couple is surrounded by silicone wall panels depicting cell-like or virus formations, similarly to the way they appear under the microscope.

Piccinini’s exploration of human hypostasis in conjunction with the accelerating role of technology and the underlining of known scientific achievements in the fields of reproduction and regeneration, engages the viewer in an unexpectedly unsettling and possibly disturbing experience. The utilisation of a hyper-realistic visual oeuvre encompassing anthropomorphic objects radiates an almost surreal locus redolent of a high-tech laboratory, where experiments are still undergoing development. These bodily -almost alien- forms of living beings appear as human detritus employed to become the conduit for a next generation of life. This cold blooded environment has an intense impact on the esoteric responses of the common observer who progressively seeks for answers through a turmoil of psychological displacement.

The myriad of mixed emotions generated throughout the exhibition comes to a crescendo when coming face to face with ‘The Carrier’, a piece which confronts not only religious beliefs but also triggers existential thoughts. Here, the artist’s references to the science of genetics and biotechnological ability to recreate a form of life from the distant past or introduce a new hybrid, puts into perspective the acuity of our very own inferiority and vulnerability.

Patricia Piccinini talked to REVma -/+ about her work:

REVma -/+: Your visual language encompasses narratives from the bio-medical and technology domains. How did this occur to you and why did you decide to pursuit it?
P.P.: My work is very much an observation on the things that underlie the experience of living in the world today. Many years ago I started with questions about what is ‘natural’ in my world. I came to the conclusion that this is not such an easy question to answer, and that in order to do so we have to take into account the effects that such technologies have on it. However, I have to say that I am less interested in technology itself and more interested in the way it changes how we think about ourselves and the creatures around us.

REVma -/+: Although this is your first solo exhibition in the UK, your art has been exhibited worldwide. Do you each time detect a different response to your work depending on the cultural and social background of your audience?
P.P.: What is surprising to me is how similar most people’s responses are, despite a variety of social and cultural backgrounds. I think that is because my work is very much about what it means to be human, or not. There is a lot of emotion in my work and it often appeals to people’s empathy, and these are things that cut across cultures.

REVma -/+: Your narrative highlights life evolution in conjunction with technological advancement. How do you see your work evolving alongside further development in these fields in the future?
P.P.: I look around me and make works that reflect on the world I see, but at the same time I am thinking about the sort of big questions that lie underneath every life. This show often reflects on fertility – in the broadest sense – and this is a theme that is a critical to people today as it was to the first sculptors from Neolithic times. I’m not sure how my work will change next, but I am sure it will continue to evolve as the world around me changes.

REVma -/+: Do you think technology can play a more forceful role in your visual vocabulary, and have you considered producing a piece of work demonstrating this inevitably close relationship between humans and machines?
P.P.: To be honest, I think that many of my works do already address this relationship is a very complex fashion. On the other hand, I think it’s a mistake to get too fixated on the technological, because ultimately the core of my work is about how we feel and think and imagine. Also ‘technology’ itself is not as simple an idea as one might think. Two works in this show refer to honey, which I see as the earliest example of biotechnology; harness biological processes to human ends. That is to me much more interesting than any kind of machine.