Humanly Possible: Patricia Piccinini

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Installation view of Patricia Piccinini’s The Young Family; © Yassine El Mansouri

Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965, Freetown, Sierra Leone)

Patricia Piccinini lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. She earned a degree in Economic History before studying painting at the Victorian College of the Arts. In 2016, she received a doctorate in Visual and Performing Arts from the University of Melbourne, where she currently teaches. Piccinini’s work primarily explores the relationships between the natural and constructed worlds, creating hybrid creatures and machines that are simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. Focusing on ideas rather than methods, Piccinini translates her thoughts through a variety of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, video, sound, installation, and digital prints.

The Artist’s Voice:

“My work aims to shift the way that people look at the world around them, and question their assumptions about the relationships they have with the world. I am especially interested in things that fall outside of our traditional ideas of normal or beautiful, or that step across the boundaries that we erect between things. How does contemporary technology and culture change our understanding of what it means to be human? What is our relationship with—and responsibilities towards—that which we create?”—Patricia Piccinini, in an interview with The Condition Report

“My work is all imagined. It’s all imagined in a place that is not far ahead of the space we live in now. I often think it’s about the world we live in actually. . . . But sometimes people think that I’ve got the solutions to what’s going to happen in the future and that in fact my work is a sort of precautionary tale or something of that nature, when in fact I really don’t have the answers.”—Patricia Piccinini, in a video interview with Centenary of Canberra

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002; Silicone, acrylic, human hair, leather, and wood, 36 x 65 x 50 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Patricia Piccinini

Revival Highlight:

Piccinini’s The Young Family (2002) depicts transgenic beings—organisms into which genetic material from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced. The artist collaborates with specialists from various fields of contemporary industrial manufacture to make her ideas a reality. Constructed using silicone, acrylic, human hair, leather, and wood, the sculpture shares human and animal features, eliciting both disgust and empathy from the viewer. Piccinini’s imagining of these hybrid creatures takes the form of a mother figure nursing her young. The central creature seems to have a familiar, maternal gaze, but also appears to have much more alien physiognomy. This unsettling juxtaposition sparks conversation about society’s preparedness for the ethical and emotional results of genetic manipulations.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: July 8, 2016

The Huffington Post features NMWA artist Amy Sherald’s paintings. Sherald portrays her subjects with charcoal-gray hues against vibrantly colored backgrounds.

Sherald says, “These paintings originated as a creation of a fairytale, illustrating an alternate existence in response to a dominant narrative of black history.”

Front-Page Femmes

The Huffington Post celebrated the anniversary of Frida Kahlo’s birth with the artist’s own words of wisdom.

Rebecca Louise Law hangs over 8,000 flowers in The Beauty of Decay and plans to re-purpose the deteriorated flowers.

Shirley Tse describes her sculptures, gems for eyes, carving Styrofoam, and Oscar Wilde.

Martha Rosler explores gentrification and homelessness in the exhibition If you can’t afford to live here, mo-o-ove!!

Through knitting and crochet, street artist Julia Riordan creates rainbow-colored installations around Stockholm.

At Fort Tilden in Queens, Katharina Grosse painted a cinderblock building damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

Valeria Napoleone displays works from her private collection of contemporary art by women for the first time.

MK Guth curates an experience for two friends to sit, drink whiskey, and read a poem by Charles Baudelaire aloud.

The Art of Romaine Brooks highlights the work and life of a long-marginalized early 20th-century artist.

ARTnews goes behind-the-scenes of Lili Bernard’s Los Angeles studio.

Hyperallergic highlights Melanie Manchot’s two-part video installation shot in the Swiss Alpine valley of Engleberg.

A new solo exhibition for Vanessa Bell—Virginia Woolf’s sister—explores the talent of the pioneering British artist.

After 50 years of choreographing, Twyla Tharp reflects on her career.

Actress Noel Neill, known for her role as Lois Lane in The Adventures of Superman, died at the age of 95.

Mexican artist Mare Avertencia Lirika tries to redefine rap with feminist messages.

Bustle highlights 19 women-led bands to listen to.

Slate calls Dorthe Nors’s twinned novellas, So Much for that Winter, “a stunning meditation on female art-making.”

Though trained as a visual artist, Cammisa Buerhaus and her musical work involving a “sculptural pipe organ” defy easy categorization.

Shows We Want to See

NMWA artist Patricia Piccinini presents surreal sculptures, drawings and a video work in San Francisco. The artist explores themes including of genetic variation and modification, the natural versus the unnatural, and love and parenthood.

Carmen Herrera’s paintings of brightly colored geometric paintings will be on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in September. Herrera, now 101-years-old, sold her first work late in life—at age 89.

Katherine Joseph—Every Minute Counts on view at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education presents a vision of Roosevelt-Era social and political culture through the lens of photojournalist Katherine Joseph.

Janelle Iglesias’s installation at the University of Colorado Art Museum “draws corollaries between selections from the CU Museum of Natural History, the university’s greenhouse, and the art museum’s permanent collection.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Patricia Piccinini

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Patricia Piccinini, whose work is currently on view in Super Natural.

Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965)

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Laura Hoffman; On view in Super Natural

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Laura Hoffman

1. Push/Pull

Australian artist Patricia Piccinini constructs unexpected amalgamations. Her sculptures combine human and beastly features and transform vehicle parts into wild animals. The Young Family (2002–3) and The Stags (2008), both in NMWA’s collection, have been known to simultaneously allure and repel visitors.

2. Material Source

Piccinini explores the tension between nature and manufacture through her subjects and mediums. She typically employs a combination of natural and synthetic materials, blurring the lines between these two realms. The Young Family includes an unsettling mix of human hair and skin-like silicone developed for special effects in movies.

3. Source Material

The artist draws inspiration from sources as varied as anatomical models, botanical illustrations, photographs of newborn animals, consumer and car culture, and works by the 16th-century Italian painter Caravaggio.

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002-3, Silicon acrylic, human hair, leather, timber; 36 x 65 x 50 in; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002-3, Silicon, acrylic, human hair, leather, timber, 36 x 65 x 50 in; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

4. Artist Statement

The Young Family . . . [represents] a mother creature with her babies,” Piccinini says. “I imagine this creature to be bred for organ transplants. . . . We are trying to do [this] with pigs, so I gave her some pig-like features. That is the purpose humanity has chosen for her . . . [yet she] wants to exist for [her own] sake.”

5. Family Ties

The Stags is one of four works Piccinini created that use vehicle parts to evoke animal forms and the intimate relationships among these creatures. Taken as a series, the viewer empathizes with and imagines the narrative of this tight family unit.

—Addie Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

 

Caution: Beware the Boundaries of Beasties

Patricia Piccinini’s The Stags is currently on view in NMWA’s summer exhibition Super Natural. In sleek and shimmering fiberglass, the two large sculptural pieces of The Stags combine characteristics of Vespas and fighting deer. Although Piccinini has created other works with auto-inspired elements, many of the Australian artist’s works depart from this style. Piccinini’s other sculptures typically use silicon and hair to create humanoid creatures with convincingly realistic bodies.

Together, these two distinct styles tell the story of mankind’s evolving scientific creations in both the “biosphere” and the “autosphere.” These different mediums both allow Piccinini to explore the complex intersection of natural and artificial elements—evoking wonder as well as fear at their possibly detrimental consequences.

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 3/4 x 72 x 40 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Piccinini’s automotive aesthetic incorporates biomorphic curves, contours, and dips to construct animal-automobile hybrids. She constructs creatures ranging from stags to Cyclepups and Truck Babies—what she imagines baby Vespas or semi-trucks would look like if vehicles could reproduce. Because these objects seem cute and harmless, the viewer doesn’t associate them with the negative characteristics of automobiles, inherent in industry and pollution. In a quickly advancing scientific world, technology becomes more sentient and advanced. Piccinini’s art cautions against unbridled enthusiasm for technological innovation, while also reveling in the wonders of nature.

Her humanoid sculptures also explore the consequences of progress—this time in the field of genetic manipulation. Sculptures like Big Mother and The Young Family convey what future scientists could create by combining human and animal genes. Because of their exceptionally realistic and somewhat human appearance, these sculptures elicit emotional responses.

The backstories of these works are full of trauma and confusion. Piccinini ponders where these fabricated sentient creatures would fit into the world if they became realities. She doubts that society’s ability to accept new and different creatures could keep pace with science’s ability to create them.

Piccinini’s art explores boundaries between the realms of human and machine as well as human and animal. She emphasizes the rapid evolution of technologically and genetically modified “things.” Are humans able to coexist and accept creations as creatures? Does society have enough foresight into the possible consequences of introducing hybrids? The questions Piccinini raises are acutely applicable to today’s world. She posits these questions with her technological and biological work, leaving the answers open to uncertainty and contemplation.

—Christy Slobogin is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Learn more about Super Natural, on view through September 13, 2015.

Uncommon Ground: Summer Exhibitions at NMWA

What is natural? Porcelain grass lawns and anthropomorphic scooters may not be the first objects to come to mind, although they are likely to make a lasting impression. Visitors can explore sensational and surprising views of flora and fauna in NMWA’s summer exhibitions, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 and Super Natural, opening on June 5.

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 ½ x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist; On view in Organic Matters

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 ½ x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist; On view in Organic Matters

The latest installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters explores the connections between nature, women, and art. In collaboration with 13 participating national and international outreach committees, this exhibition features contemporary artists working with the subject of nature.

Calling to mind entrenched associations of women with nature, Organic Matters opens a dialogue about traditional views. The artists recontextualize nature and redefine the relationships between women and nature. Their works are fanciful and sometimes frightful. They also reference modern society’s complex relationship with nature, ranging from concern for its future to fear of its power.

Through a delightfully diverse array of mediums, including photography, drawing, sculpture, and video, these artists capture nature in its most interesting forms. Rachel Sussman’s images documenting Earth’s oldest organisms (including a 9,500-year-old spruce tree) are as enchanting as Ysabel LeMay’s otherworldly ecosystems. From Polly Morgan’s creepy-cool birds to Lara Shipley’s ominous landscapes, these uninhibited works offer a fresh perspective on the natural world.

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Giving context to Organic Matters, Super Natural juxtaposes historical artists’ works with photographs, books, and videos by contemporary artists. Featuring works by 25 artists, including Rachel Ruysch, Kiki Smith, and Sam Taylor-Johnson, Super Natural highlights the way that old mistresses’ interpretations of the natural world directly inspire artists today.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; On view in Super Natural

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; On view in Super Natural

Remarkable prints by 17th-century artist-naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian depict insects she studied in South America, while contemporary prints, artist’s books, and sculptures feature spiders, reptiles, and hybrid creatures. The female form historically symbolized abstract ideas such as spring or the Earth. In response to these ideas, works by Janaina Tschäpe and Ana Mendieta include dramatic performances and interventions in the landscape in order to show a new vision of nature.

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling says, “Both exhibitions demonstrate that women artists, historical and contemporary, are often adventurous, inventive and subversive when dealing with nature in their work.”

Don’t wait—plan your visit to see these wild works by women artists. Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 and Super Natural are on view June 5–September 13, 2015.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.