Thursday, 31 May 2012

RETROSPECTOLOGY: The world according to Patricia Piccinini

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“Patricia Piccinini is an artist of our time and gives visual form to some concepts that concern us all mainly the scientific ethics of the use of stem cells and cloning. Her work is confronting and even shocking.”

This statement is interesting, firstly, in that it is not grammatically correct. Therefore, it can be interpreted in many ways. My own personal interpretation of this statement is that it is true � to a certain extent.

Patricia Piccinini is an artist of our time � and some of her works do mainly focus on the ethics of embryonic stem cell usage, cloning, and genetic manipulation. However, the ways in which her works are confronting, or shocking, can be explored in many ways.


One of the works that I found most interesting was the first one that I encountered � Still Life with Stem Cells, a sculptural work depicting a young girl, startlingly real to life, playing with objects clearly identifiable as humanoid by their shape and human characteristics � a depiction of the manipulation of undifferentiated stem cells.

A question that must be posed regarding this work however, is that of Piccinini’s choice in the manifestation of her subject matter. Why is it a little girl playing with the embryonic stem cells, why are the stem cells portrayed so hideously?

Piccinini’s work is unique in that it neither condones nor condemns this new technology that confronts us today. Instead, it provides us with insight into issues that we may not have considered before. In “Still Life” one may ask if the little girl was a deliberate warning against this technology being something like a knife in a child’s hands. Yet it is not presented in a way which deliberately states this � rather it allows room for vast interpretation � prompting the viewer to consider the issue in more than one way.

Another of her interesting pieces is that entitled “Protein Lattice,” comprising of a series of glossy images overlooking several sets of TV monitors. It is perhaps in this piece that Piccinini’s skill and diversity in regard to the themes of her artwork is portrayed to its full extent. In the images, beautiful young women are showed in all their perfection, yet surrounded by the grotesque forms of the infamous rats with human ears attached to their backs. This paradoxical combination is startling in the messages that it conveys. The model’s artificial, computer generated beauty, compared with the hideous, genetically engineered mutant rats, seems eerily similar, a juxtaposition that forces us to confront the implications of genetic engineering, and what it can produce. Again, the ingenuity of Piccinini’s work is that it does not specifically say anything � in its ambiguity, its messages are conveyed perhaps more clearly than if they had been written in bold. It is possible, that generally, people tend to believe more in a concept when they are allowed to reach their own conclusions about it, rather than be forced to accept something as it has been presented to them.

In the process of making her works, Piccinini combines sophisticated computer technology with her own visualisations, a statement in itself as to the power of technology in the transformation of one thing to another, or even to simply modify it, make it perfect. Most of her pieces are first created virtually in the computer and then brought to life in a three dimensional form. Her utilisation of this technique, along with her combined works gives thought to what people may take for granted as real. What is real - A question that is asked in every one of her pieces.

In terms of space, lighting, and painted information, the exhibition is displayed with as much flawless perfection as the actual pieces, so much so that within moments of stepping into its boundaries, one cannot help wondering if one has gone into a completely different dimension where the warped, the beautiful and the hideous permeate the world in twisted combinations.

The exhibition, for the most part, is dimly lit, with only specific points of focus illuminated brightly, so as to draw attention to those parts. Other, more darker displays are only dimly lit, yet draw a perverse attention as curiosity overcomes repulse and those who can stand to look do so. The entire exhibition has an air of being glossed over, smoothed, air brushed, and the catalogue is much the same, a digital two dimension recapture of the three dimensional model.

Federation Square was as controversial in its displays as the ACCA was � but in a completely different way. Many critics would have considered many of the artworks displayed at the Gallery blasphemous � something that would not have been completely unknown to the exhibition at the ACCA. Yet whereas the ACCA focused on one artist and one theme, the Gallery displayed much more varied pieces. Each was interesting in its own way to look at � how people would have related to the works of art would have depended on their own personal beliefs. How they related to each other would have depended on their past experiences � and their current opinions and values.

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