Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, and mythology, and analyses of texts.
Patricia Piccinini produced contemporary and contemporaneity art by focalising societal anxieties about science and relationships with technology through applying familial themes.
Piccinini elicits portrayed monstrosity and cuteness to build a relationship between the audience and scientific developments such as genetic modification and biotechnology. Through photography, video, and sculpture, she portrayed mutated animals and human forms in a tender light, forcing the audience to consider the humanity of the recent scientific revolution, rather than the typical sterile depiction of science.
The humanisation of the genetically modified family in the Young family (2002) commentated on the future genetic modification of human embryos with human-animal chimaeras. Piccinini anthropomorphized the inanimate to comment on our society and relationship to technology through Truck Babies (1999).
The ethics of producing unexpected results through biotechnology was explored and humanized in Still life With Stem Cells (2002). Lastly, Piccinini released a hot-air balloon called Skywhale (2013), anthropomorphising a whale mother, which was released in Canberra as a commission to mark the centenary.
Ultimately, Piccinini challenged the ethics of biotechnology by reconnecting us to society’s love of the maternal figure and utilized the cuteness to accentuate how our love for technology was rooted in social lives.
Young Family by Patricia Piccinini
Piccinini was part of the ‘contemporaneity’ art movement where multiple cultures, times and ideas occur beyond the ‘contemporary’. Typical characteristics of this movement were the use of “new media, digital imagery, immersive cinema, national identifications, new internationalism, disidentification, neomodernism, relational aesthetics, postproduction art, (and) remix cultures” (Smith 2006).
Contextually, her mother was diagnosed with cancer when she was seventeen, sparking her interest in the maternal connection to scientific discoveries. She would sift through news articles about cancer and cures.
Her work was imaginative, exploring human and animal hybrid bodies along with the relationship with new technologies to the human body. Exploring maternity, the monstrous and the cute, she delved into the world of stem cell research, genetic modifications, and biotechnology (Turley, Louise, Leeanna Walsman, and Patricia Piccinini 2015).
The sculptures of Piccinini react to the ethical issues of scientific development by humanising the inanimate while using art to engage with social norms and technology.
For example, the realistic sculpture Young Family included a human-like mother with the pink body of a chimaera, an organism with cells from two or over zygotes, offered a nuanced look into the relationship between humans and non-human lifeforms (Madan K. 2020).
Face dog-like with primate hands, the mother is designed by fibre-glass, silicon, and human hair. Three babies fed from the mother, composition alluding to La Lupa Capitolina "The Capitoline Wolf", a bronze sculpture depicting Romulus and Remus from the legend of the founding of Rome (15th century AD) by Antonio Pollaiuolo.
Incorporating this mythological element showcased the heroism of the mother while showing the mythological archetype of the ‘monster’ phenomenon formed in ancient Greece, tearing the audience between shock, disgust, and endearment for the maternal.
For example, Anitra Goriss-Hunter stated, “I am interested in the interrogation…where the two supposedly oppositional elements of maternity and technology come together” (Goriss‐Hunter 2004).
In this case, the maternal was investigated regarding stem cell research, organ donation via animals, and mutations caused by scientific experimentation. Piccinini asked the audience to consider the humanity of this in a primal way, as it drew experience from the respect for maternal figures in society (Gok 2019).
It’s been discussed how the monsters in this concept reflect on the creatures of Patricia Piccinini. This linked the maternal with environmental and ecological concerns and calls for responsibility to be reconsidered outside of teleological progress (Lally 2017).
Thus, by evoking social relationships within her artwork, Piccinini challenged our relationship with technological development by humanizing chimaeras through her statues.
Truck Babies by Patricia Piccinini
The anthropomorphising of the inanimate produced commentaries of our social upbringings and relationships. She created Truck Babies after a road trip from New Orleans to Niagara Falls, the trucks popular with the Lyon girls when they were young (Browning 2019).
She primarily focused on the nurturing instinct of the babies of larger trucks and how cuteness influences complex social relationships by triggering empathy and compassion, where when one encounters something cute, it activates fast brain activity linked to emotion and pleasure (Aziz, Tipu Z., Cornelissen, Piers L., Craske, Michelle G., Green, Alexander L., Hansen, Peter C., Harvey, Allison G., Holliday, Ian E., Lehtonen, Annukka, Kringelbach, Morten L., Squire, Sarah, Stein, Alan 2008).
The psychology of cuteness was present in the way Truck Babies humanised technology and made one question their relationship with scientific advancements. She portrayed baby pink and baby blue, common colours for distinguishing girls from boys, trucks made of fibreglass, characterised by big eyes, round cheeks, and large bottoms, similar to a human baby (Piccinini 1999).
The cute attributes challenges how humans ascribe human qualities and heteronormative gender roles onto even inanimate objects. It was a fascinating dystopian quality about humanity and the relationship between technology and consumers. The cute façade blinds consumers to the ethical concerns regarding environmental pollution, and other issues the industry has contributed.
Piccinini stated her concern with “Relationships between beings, relationships within families and relationships between species, but also the boundary between the artificial and the natural” (Piccinini 1999).
The trucks symbolised this relationship between contemporary consumers and shiny objects. Consequently, Truck Babies questions the nature of contemporary society and the confusing relationship between what is seen as natural and artificial.
Still Life With Stem Cells by Patricia Piccinini
The ethical issues of biotechnology producing unexpected results were one of the social concerns Piccinini highlighted with her work Still Life With Stem Cells. By her manipulation of organisms and the building blocks of life forces, the audience considers the morality behind stem cell research, technological advancements, and undesired modifications to the human body.
For instance, the pinkish beige blob sculptures had blemished skin, suggesting age, the hyperreal surface textures make the stem cells like human flesh, successfully disturbing the audience. However, a child-like love was projected onto the blobs by the girl sitting on the floor with them.
Frozen in action she clutched a blob to her chest, suggesting the stem cells should be loved, and as she played with them and were set up as though they were family (McTavish 2003). Once again Piccinini utilizes themes of maternal acceptance by their smiling caretaker, whilst to the voyeur stare of the audience when the organisms were alone, would have viewed the six stem cells as monstrous.
The ethical complexities of stem cell technology shined through this artwork and encouraged cautious treatment of technological development (Evans 2020). Hence, by thoroughly challenging the audience and their relationship to stem cell research, she made the audience reconsider what they consider as familial bonds with unexpected mutations.
Skywhale by Patricia Piccinini
Piccinini commentates on social relationships in the nuclear family with her hot-air balloon Skywhale. Initially, Skywhale was released in Canberra as a commission to mark the centenary.
In the realms of kitsch, the balloon appeared as a caricature and anthropomorphism of a mother (ABC 2013), bridging the divide between the human and animal worlds, attribution for ‘intersubjectivity’; a biological instinct that affects both nature and culture (National Gallery of Australia 2020).
For instance, the fins of Skywhale morphed into breasts, which according to Piccinini, symbolized the mammalian status of the whale and how they breastfeed their young. Motherhood was once again a key theme within her work and centralised the discussion between nurture and nature.
The maternal role of the Skywhale makes the audience think about the behaviours they shared with animals. Furthermore, the whale poses the question of how far mutations would develop and call to us to continue to see humanity in all living organisms. Therefore, Skywhale explored social issues regarding the position of the mother in both the human world and the animal kingdom.
Walk With Patricia Piccinini Through Her Exhibition 'Curious Affection'
Piccinini challenged biotechnology by reconnecting us to society’s love to the maternal figure and utilized the cuteness of children to accentuate how our love for technology has roots in our social lives.
Exploring maternity, the monstrous and the cute, she delved into the world of stem cell research, genetic modifications, and biotechnology. This linked the maternal with environmental and ecological concerns and calls for responsibility to be reconsidered outside of teleological progress.
By evoking social relationships within artworks such as Young Family, Piccinini challenged our relationship with technological development by humanizing chimaeras through her statues. Truck Babies questions the nature of contemporary society, consumerism, and the confusing relationship between what is seen as natural and artificial.
The ethical complexities of stem cell technology shined through this artwork and encouraged cautious treatment of technological development. The maternal role of the Skywhale makes the audience think about the behaviours they share with animals, creating a discussion of nature and nurture.
By thoroughly challenging the audience and their relationship to stem cell research, she made the audience reconsider familial bonds with unexpected mutations.
The role of the artist in the contemporary world challenges societal expectations and make the audience reflect on technology, and with the ever-evolving landscape of contemporaneity art, artists like Piccinini will make us question our ethics.
In The Flesh | Patricia Piccinini
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Simran Singh