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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | February 24, 2020

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The Ugly Side of Art? Patricia Piccinini's Curious Affection

The Ugly Side of Art? Patricia Piccinini’s Curious Affection
Connor Foley

Curious Affection is big news. Patricia Piccinini has goaded controversy before. Many may remember her from the controversial 2013 hot air balloon Skywhale. Unveiled in Canberra as part of its centenary celebrations it polarised popular opinion. It flew 73 by 112 feet in size and came complete with ten nipples and a risible grin almost sardonically smirking at the onlookers below. Some felt the hot air balloon inappropriate and ghastly to look at. While others saw it as a profound artistic statement capable of conjuring up feelings of awe and empathy, forcing us to consider our relationship with nature. In an opinion piece with The Canberra Times the director of the Canberra Museum and Gallery Shane Braynard opined: “I find that the Skywhale challenges me, quietly and on a personal level.”

Many of Ms. Piccinini’s sculptures elicit this empathy, awe and if you are as prudish as I am, potentially disgust. Many are human/animal hybrids. One such sculpture is a mother hound. Her pups suckle and feed while she lies on her side. Her head and body are dog like while her skin, size and texture is human. Many can see the the ways in which Piccinini manipulates and transform images of maternal love and the female body to look alien or uncomfortable revealing our own latent preconceptions about what feminine beauty should be and what levels of matriarchal love we are willing to accept.

The day myself and my girlfriend went everyone under the age of 25 got free entry. The desire to include young people is clear but there are elements of Piccinini’s work that could be inappropriate for children. Piccinini has endowed her sculptures with incredible realism, or rather credible realism. She many times used real hair with skin tones and textures that are extremely lifelike. Many of these hybridisations contain looks of helplessness, they have a childlike honest and curiosity. Many are either childlike or directly interact with children. Their shared innocence crystalised in the figure of her sculptures. She herself muses that: “They [her creations] are more vulnerable than threatening.”

One of the key sculptures from the collection used in much of the advertising of the event, and poignant enough for Piccinini to sculpt herself holding it, is a baby pig/human hybrid that lies on its back beside an open copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Themes of transformation, social opprobrium and the contrasting spires of realism and fantasy are clearly at play here. While in a more nuanced wink at irony and hypocrisy the book is a Penguin classics release. What is the artist saying here about our preconditioned sense of ‘appropriate and inappropriate’ art? And why do we abscond certain artists and artworks when there have been many others long since accepted into the culturally appropriate canon who have already exposed the public’s doubled edged definition of indecency?

Although the Artist has very carefully constructed many sculptures to evoke these feelings of empathy and curiosity in their facial, emotional and physical similarities to us some do seem to have been created with the purpose of shocking. Some do not posses a face they simply are an orifice or flaps of skin. Of course the adults understand what genitalia is, and what it is intended to do but perhaps these images could frighten or confuse children. This is perhaps why Piccinini has created a kid oriented exhibit called Curious Creatures which are recommended for children eight years of age and below.

In one of Piccinini’s more successful displays she creates a tribe that appear like the digits of a foot or hand. They wear tires around their necks immersed in the outback. The artificial and the natural are symbiotic and indifferent. Although this image could be considered primitive it actually suggests an image of hope for the future. A future where our modern waste can be used in conjunction with life.

Sometimes walking through the exhibit it can be difficult for you not to feel like the ugly one. To recoil is involuntary, but being priggish is not. Art exhibitions with the potential for genuinely challenging an audience are rare. They say some times you must stand back to appreciate certain works of art. Perhaps if we inspect Piccinini’s work a little closer we will begin to see the beauty of it.

The details:

What: Curious Affection

Where: GOMA

When:Curious Affection runs from the 24th of March 2018 to the 5th August 2018

How Much: Adult tickets are $18 with concessions for children and students.

Website: link to website