Brief Aside: Patricia Piccinini is one of my favorite contemporary artists. However, the selection of works I’m showing here isn’t an entirely accurate sampling of her work, just my favorites. If any of what you see interests you, and even if it doesn’t, I would strongly encourage you to investigate further. She really is quite multi-talented.
Additionally: there is a LOT of non-sexual nudity going on here, guys, really rather a lot. So I’m gonna be safe and slap a NSFW warning on this.
You’ve all seen her work, even if you don’t know the name. Ever see a clickbait article or something on some conspiracy whackjob (not good, wholesome conspiracy theorists like my dad or Bob Who Owns The Gun Shop, but the kind who get very excited for photos of Queen Elizabeth with lizard eyes that were clearly put together not in Photoshop but in MS Paint) shrine to madness? The ones that say: “HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRID” or “DULCE LAB PAPER NEW SECRET” or some shit like that?
Here it is, you know you’ve seen it:
Shockingly, those websites and clickbait ads were not entirely truthful. Not the work of aliens, nor the government, nor even the United States, these fanciful yet shockingly grounded statues are the work of Patricia Piccinini, an Australian multi-media artist.
Man, I love her work. There’s a lot going on under the surface of these guys: concerns about genetic engineering, about the effects of our meddling, about what it means to be human and by extension a person. You know, questions I have unsubtly suggested I adore.
But I’m focussing on the aesthetics of these sculptures, because I’m shallow and very rarely do I find something so utterly my aesthetic. Look at the young family. They’re so gross, but still possessed of some degree of cuteness. This is a common theme in many of her sculptures.
They are ugly, there is no denying that. But, and I hate to be the one to break this to you, humans are ugly. We’re nasty, man. We get all greasy and we have fluff in weird places and we’ve got all these floppy, sagging bits. Our spines are hardly even functional, hence the near-universal back, neck, and head pain our species suffers. We’re freaking bald all over and it’s considered a normal part of our development to have massive pore infections. Have you ever noticed how sub-optimal our buttock-and-anus arrangement is? It’s yucky, my dudes.
And yet, we are also beautiful. Graceful, with a gorgeous array of colors from the whiteness of rain-giving clouds, to the dark, rich black of fertile soil. Our hands in particular are beautiful, dextrous, controlled, capable of such great feats–and of the simple act of a comforting caress. Humans have beautiful, sparkling eyes and open faces. Our teeth are not as foul as, say, baleen in whales or whatever the fuck is going on here.
That’s the sort of opposites-at-the-same-time quality I like in Piccinini’s art. And that’s entirely subjective, I know, but that’s all art, isn’t it?
Even if you don’t like the subject matter, there’s no denying that Piccinini is immensely skilled at her craft. These are photorealistic sculptures, and that’s no easy thing to get right. I’m sure the effect is even more startling in real life, as most sculptures are. Unfortunately, as I live in a region commonly known as ‘shotguns-and-Bibles’ Texas, I doubt I’ll get to see any of her art in person any time soon.
Lovingly rendered monster people, shown with children who exhibit no fear, but only openness and love, is a common theme. Piccinini believes children to be free of prejudice, and therefore more open to the oddities that repel us adults. There’s a little bit of bupkiss to that–children are more than capable of telling when something is in the uncanny valley, and more than capable of detecting when things are just plain wrong about something–but also a grain of truth. You do have to train prejudice into children. And in a world where these things are commonplace, where they’re seen all the time, and more often than not in nurturing roles, more than likely children would be completely comfortable around them in a way the adults who knew a time without these creatures could never be.
That’s another element of the creepiness for me. The abnormal treated as perfectly normal is a potent sort of creep, the kind of creep that makes us worry for children who are with big dogs no matter how well trained we know them to be, or that makes Thanksgiving with your neo-Nazi uncle, where everyone just nods and goes along like he’s not a disgraceful lunatic, so supernaturally unwholesome. You know it’s dangerous and not right, but no one else seems to. You’re the only sane one, but to say anything makes you seem insane. It’s a common fear. I may be totally off base here with this interpretation, but it’s where my mind went, and Piccinini is clear in her desire to make people think. So even if I’m wrong, she accomplished her goal.
However, in Piccinini’s world, the children are clearly never in any danger. The creatures are of no harm to them. And that’s another difference between Piccinini’s sculptures and other such cautionary works. The danger isn’t that these monsters are violent and might harm us, but in the philosophical, ethical questions they raise. They won’t hurt us; they don’t need to. In a world where man and beast are so blurred together, we may have already done ourselves more than enough damage.
Wow, that got pretty heavy. Here, have a naked ape man hauling a remarkably well-done granny someplace or the other.
And another lovely picture of a child being comforted by a meat demon from Piccinini’s dreams.
Themes of motherhood and nurturing are very common in the sculptures, as you’ve doubtless noticed. We always associate the monstrous with destruction, but turning that notion on its head is getting more and more prevalent. It also prompts the question, at least to me: why are these abominations taking care of kids instead of their parents??? In the future, instead of television parenting, do we have genetic chimera parenting??? Take care of your kids! You can’t just hire a multi-boob dog-ape-woman to do it for you!
As delightful as I find any scenario where a non-human nutures a human (or vice versa, I like vice versa just as much, if not more), I also like that these things are regularly shown caring for their own young. It adds plausibility to these things as organisms, and that is vital, Piccinini says, to her mission of making sure these creatures are closely grounded with reality. If it’s fantasy, she says, you distance yourself too much for the message to be effective.
A world of human-animal hybrids. Each more wet-eyed and sympathetic-looking than the last. Patricia Piccinini is definitely an artist to look out for, a keen mix of skillful execution and thought-provoking concepts. I hope that, at the very least, you humor my desire to visit her website, and see some of her other works. Her 2D drawings especially have a flowing, liquid quality that I find very admirable.
To finish our foray into her weird, wonderful world, have some babies.