Posts Tagged ‘The Bottom Feeder

10
Nov
09

Review: ‘Unforced Intimacies’ by Patricia Piccinini at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 21st November 2009

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)' 2009

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)
2009
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, Canadian Mountain Goat

 

 

We are the clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! – yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest. – A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. – One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond foe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same! – For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

When human imagination takes flight, as it does in this exhibition, the results are superlative. Piccinini is at the height of her powers as an artist, in full control of the conceptual ideas, their presentation and the effect that they have on the viewer. Witty, funny, thought-provoking and at times a little scary Piccinini’s exhibition (paradoxically entitled Unforced Intimacies) is an act of revelatio: the pulling aside of the genetic curtain to see what lies beneath.

Featuring hyperrealist genetically modified creatures and human child figures Piccinini’s sculptures, drawings and video seem passionately alive in their verisimilitude (unlike Ricky Swallow’s resplendently dead relics at the NGV). In The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat), the title perhaps a play on the traditional Zen koan The Sound of One Hand Clapping, a meditation on the nature of inner compassion, a walrus-child balances on one hand on the back of a Canadian Mountain Goat. The walrus-child has extended eyes, a voluminous lower lip with whiskers under the nose; the hyperreality of the hand on the back of the goat makes it seem like the hand will come alive! A mane of hair flows down the walrus-child’s back to feet that are conjoined – like an articulated merman – ending not in flippers but in toes complete with dirty, cracked and broken nails. Here the natural athleticism of the mountain goat, now dead and stuffed, is surmounted by the mutated walrus-child’s natural athleticism, poignantly suspended like an exclamation mark above the in-animate pommel horse.

In Balasana (The Child’s Pose) a child reposes in the yoga position on a tribal rug. Balanced on top of the child is a stuffed Red-necked Wallaby that perfectly inverts the concave of the child’s back, it’s front feet curled over while it’s rear feet are splayed. The luminosity of the skin of the child is incredible – such a technical feat to achieve this realism – that you are drawn to intimately examine the child’s face and hands. The purpose of The Child’s Pose in yoga is that it literally reminds us of our time as an infant and revives in us rather vivid memories of lying in this position. It also reminds us to cultivate our inner innocence so that we in turn may see the world without judgement or criticism. The paradoxes of the ‘unforced’ intimacy between the child and the wallaby can be read with this conceptualisation ‘in mind’.

With The Bottom Feeder (2009) Piccinini’s imagination soars to new heights. With the shoulders of a human, the legs and forearms of what seems like a marsupial, the lowered head of a newt with intense staring blue eye (see photograph above), luminescent freckled skin covered in hair and a rear end that consists of both male and female genitalia that forms a ‘face’, the hermaphroditic bottom feeder is a frighteningly surreal visage. Inevitably the viewer is drawn to the exposed rump through a seemingly unforced interactivity, examining the folds and flaps of the labia and the hanging scrotum of this succulent feeder. Here Piccinini draws on psychoanalysis and Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage in a child’s development – where the child wants to merge with the mother to erase the self/other split by fulfilling the mother’s desire by having sex with her – thus erasing the mother’s lack, the idea of lack represented by the lack of a penis.1

As Jean Baudrillard notes of the mass of bodies on Brazil’s Copacabana beach, “Thousands of bodies everywhere. In fact, just one body, a single immense ramified mass of flesh, all sexes merged. A single, shameless expanded human polyp, a single organism, in which all collude like the sperm in seminal fluid … The sexual act is permanent, but not in the sense of Nordic eroticism: it is the epidermal promiscuity, the confusion of bodies, lips, buttocks, hips – a single fractal entity disseminated beneath the membrane of the sun.”2

An so it is here, all sexes merged within the anthropomorphised body of The Bottom Feeder, a body that challenges and subverts human perceptions of the form and sexuality of animals (including ourselves) that inhabit the world.

In Doubting Thomas (2008), my favourite piece in the exhibition, a skeptical child with pale and luminous skin is about to put his hand inside the mouth of a genetically modified mole like creature that has reared it’s hairy snout to reveal a luscious, fluid-filled mouth replete with suckers and teeth. You want to shout ‘No, don’t go there!’ as the child’s absent mother has probably already warned him – to no avail. Children only learn through experience, I suspect in this case a nasty one.

.
The terrains the Piccinini interrogates (nature and artifice, biogenetics, cloning, stem cell research, consumer culture) are a rematerialisation of the actual world through morphological ‘mapping’ onto the genomes of the future. Morphogenetic fields3 seem to surround the work with an intense aura; surrounded by this aura the animals and children become more spiritual in their silence. Experiencing this new world promotes an evolution in the way in which we conceive the future possibilities of life on this earth, this brave but mutably surreal new world.

This is truly one of the best exhibitions of the year in Melbourne.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

  1. Klages, M. Jacques Lacan. Boulder: University of Colorado, 2001 [Online] Cited 09/10/2009 no longer available online
  2. Baudrillard, Jean. Fragments: Cool Memories III, 1990 – 1995. London: Verso, 1997, p. 74
  3. “A morphogenetic field is a group of cells able to respond to discrete, localised biochemical signals leading to the development of specific morphological structures or organs.” Morphogenetic field definition on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 05/05/2019

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)' 2009

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)
2009
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, Canadian Mountain Goat

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)' (detail) 2009

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat) (detail)
2009
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, Canadian Mountain Goat

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'The Bottom Feeder' 2009

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'The Bottom Feeder' 2009

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Bottom Feeder
2009
Silicone, fibreglass, steel, fox fur

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'The Bottom Feeder' (detail) 2009il

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Bottom Feeder (detail)
2009
Silicone, fibreglass, steel, fox fur

 

 

Exploring concepts of what is “natural” in the digital age, Patricia Piccinini brings a deeply personal perspective to her work.

Rachel Kent notes: “Since the early 1990s, Piccinini has pursued an interest in the human form and its potential for manipulation and enhancement through bio-technical intervention. From the mapping of the human genome to the growth of human tissue and organs from stem cells, Piccinini’s art charts a terrain in which scientific progress and ethical questions are intertwined.”

Text from the Tolarno Galleries website [Online] Cited 05/05/2019

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'Doubting Thomas' 2008

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Doubting Thomas
2008
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, chair

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Doubting Thomas (detail)
2008

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'Doubting Thomas' 2008

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Doubting Thomas (detail)
2008

 

 

“Time and again my work returns to children, and their ambiguous relationships with the (only just) imaginary animals that I create. Children embody a number of the key issues in my work. Obviously they directly express the idea of genetics – both natural and artificial – but beyond that they also imply the responsibilities that a creator has to their creations. The innocence and vulnerability of children is powerfully emotive and evokes empathy – their presence softens the hardness of some of the more difficult ideas, but it can also elevate the anxiety level.”

.
Patricia Piccinini quoted on the Kaldor Public Art Projects website [Online] Cited 05/11/2009 no longer available online

 

“I am interested in the way that contemporary biotechnology and even philosophy erode the traditional boundaries between the artificial and the natural, as well as between species and even the basic distinctions between animal and human.”

.
Patricia Piccinini quoted on the Artlink website [Online] Cited 05/05/2019

 

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Balasana' 2009

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Balasana
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, Red-necked Wallaby, rug
2009

 

 

Tolarno Galleries
Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street,
Melbourne, Vic, 3000
Phone: +61 3 9654 6000

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 1 – 5pm

Tolarno Galleries website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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