This is my first blog post in just over a month! I cannot believe how quickly time has passed since the Museums Galleries Australia Conference. Not to mention, in the last month I have secured a new role, Curator of the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre at the University of Queensland, and moved everything from Gladstone back to Brisbane. Only now have I finally found time to go and see some exhibitions! The first on my list was Patricia Piccinini Curious Affection, currently on display at GOMA.
I was ony vaguely familiar with the work of Piccinini before visiting this exhibition. I am not a huge fan of contemporary art – my tastes are quite niche. I had seen one of her sculptures on display (cannot remember where) and thought it was both bizarre yet incredibly intriguing. Also, her work reflects pretty clear themes that I think a lot of people can recognise and even begin to engage with. Anything that brings science, technology and art together in a really out there kind of way is a huge yes from me.
I visited on a Wednesday during our winter school holidays. It was quite busy around the cultural centre precinct, but, the exhibition was quiet. There were only around eight other people in the absolutely massive space while I was there. This allowed me to really take my time and look closely at the works on display. I must have picked a good time because images I’ve seen of visitors to the exhibition always show the space absolutely packed with people.
It is a ticketed exhibition which didn’t bother me. I can’t begin to imagine how expensive it was to get the exhibition to GOMA, so I didn’t mind paying a bit for admission. The first half of the exhibition is pretty light and open displaying some of Piccinini’s most famous works. She has been a practicising artist for over 20 years, producing so many works that really challenge visitors and invite us to question the world we live in.
As soon as you enter the exhibition space there is a thematic panel explaining the crux of the exhibition. It is stated as her most ambitious exhibition yet, addressing such a wide variety of themes. The works on display relate to biotechnology and digital technology blurring the line between humans, nature and the artificial.
I particularly enjoyed the sculptures that showed human-animal hybrids in familiar situations. Her automotive works didn’t really capture my imagination so I won’t be speaking about them in this post.
One of the first sculptures you see is titled Doubting Thomas. A little boy is touching what looks like a miniature monster resting on a chair. I literally had to stop myself from thinking “oh no, someone’s kid is touching the exhibition”. Her work is so lifelike and real you were pinching yourself the entire time. In the same room there is a sculpture titled The Comforter. I found this one to be quite sweet, yet very powerful. A little girl suffering from hypertrichosis (or werewolf syndrome) is sitting on the floor holding a newborn baby with some kind of mutation. Commentary here is on genetic engineering and how mutation is a ntural phenomenon.
The second room opens up more and allows visitors to move in and out of different spaces. It is in this space you can see what is probably Piccinini’s most famous work, The Young Family. This pig-human hybrid family is what Piccinini imagines to be animals bred for organ donation. I particularly enjoyed reading the didactic. Seeing how the ethics of organ donation from pigs to humans had influenced her work was very interesting. A few of the sculptures had a “learn more about” label directing visitors to a website for further information. I didn’t see anyone in the space following this suggestion.
Finally, this room contained my favourite sculpture, Balasana. An incredibly realistic girl is resting on a rug with a wallaby on her back. My only criticism here is that similar to the National Gallery of Vicitoria, the labels for kids were really difficult to separate from the other labels. At least this time they were positioned at a slightly better height and asked more interesting questions. For example, the label for Balasana asked “have you ever shared a special relationship with an animal?”
The second half the exhibition begins with an installation titled The Field. Here, 3000 flowers made from ABS and PPE plastic are swaying on a bouncy floor. Visitors walk through the space literally immersing themselves in the field. The reasoning behind this installation was to fuse the flower (associated with female fertility) with the Venus of Willendorf (a famous female figurine carved from limestone in 28 000 BCE), reminding visitors that societies have been female-centered. Dotted around the field were four sculptures including a self-portrait of Piccinini.
What was most striking about the entire exhibition was how it moved from light in the first half, to dark in the second. I spent quite a bit of time in The Field simply adjusting my eyes to the darkness.
The last sculpture I want to talk about was right at the end of the second half. After walking through and see creations such as Butthole Penguins, you come across a caravan. Inside is The Couple, two human-bear hybrids embracing each other and represeting the possibility of reproduction and for a future outside of our control.
As you can see, there were some pretty major themes tackled in this exhibition. I enjoyed the fusion of science and technology with art to create something uncomfortable, yet very memorable.
Overall, I really enjoyed this exhibition and would definitely recommend it to anyone who will be in Brisbane before 5 August 2018. It is such a wild ride from start to finish.