Thursday, May 5, 2011
An inteview with Patricia Picinnini
I spoke with Patricia Piccinini on the eve of her major retrospective exhibition "Once upon a time..." at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
What’s the meaning of the exhibition’s title Once Upon a Time…?
Nick Mitzevich, the Art Gallery’s Director, actually came up with that but I liked it because my work is quite mythical. Myths conect people to ideas in an emotional way. So I liked the title.
The exhibition has a large focus on active involvement with The Lab for children as well as Lectures and Workshops for Adults. Is that a conscious effort to break down some of the barriers between the art and the audience?
That’s more the gallery’s initiative but I support it because my work is more discursive than didactic. If part of the conversation the audience has with my artwork continues with them creating something themselves, that’s wonderful for me.
I’ve heard that some of your work has been integrated into the gallery’s Permanent collection?
It’s actually something I’ve done for my last two exhibitions in Perth and Tasmania. It’s really interesting for me to place the works in a different context because it creates a new way of seeing them and really animates the work. It also encorages different readings of the surounding work in the permanent collection.
Do you think that connection between your work and the work people will find in the permanent collection needs to be reinforced?
I think my work is immediately appealing because it’s got this incredible surface. Superficially they’re quite spectacular. But if people are interested then they’ll come into the work and get more out of it.
I guess everything needs to have a hook?
Yeah, and often my hook is this… “I feel therefore I think.” It’s a very contemporary idea and I really use the mechanism of employing empathy in the viewer.
Is that why children feature so prominently in your work?
Yeah, it is related because it’s easier to empathise with a child than it is with an adult because adults are responsible for their decisions. Children are more vulnerable and they bring out the best in us. When I place a child in a context it evokes an impulse to protect that child and that sets up an atmosphere to view the whole work. It also evokes the notion of the future because children are the ones who are going to inherit the consequences of our actions.
How do children react to your work?
They get the humour, which a lot of adults miss. But they also have a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of the big issues. Often it’s parents who want to shield children from the work. But my work isn’t violent or aggressive in anyway. There’s a lot of sympathy for the creatures.
Your work is very much about the idea and you’ve said that you are not driven by an interest in the process. Do you encourage the audience to be curious about the process behind your work?
Not really. I only need the process to be as good as it can be so it’s a good vehicle for my idea. And that’s very liberating for me because it mean that I can make a film or a sculpture or anything inbetween. All I have to do is find the right people to work with.
Some people seem quite stuck on the idea of art as the product of one individual. But the leading work of our time seems to be the product of a whole community of talented individuals. Why then, do people cling to the idea of the one creator?
Because that the artist’s role has been with us since the Renaissance. That was a time when it made scene for artists to assert themselves as being inspired, as being, somehow, closer to God. But I don’t think that idea has very much currency today, especially as a woman. That kind of authority was never afforded to us.
I set myself up, not as an authority, but as a participant in this culture. I’m as interested and confounded by it all as everybody else. The ideas I’m interested in aren’t just my concerns; they’re the communities concerns. I see my works as a kind of reflection of what’s happening today.
The work Eulogy is being shown here for the first time. It depicts a man cradling a Blobfish, a creature that actually exists and is in danger of extinction. What made you choose this new direction?
Usually I make up things. It comes from my imagination. I sit down and think “if I was a natural force of evolution where would I go?” But…I’ve done that for years now.
So, along comes the Blobfish, this unassuming little creature, meeking out an existence for itself 800 meters below the surface. They’re perfectly adapted to their habitat but they’re being wiped out by crabbing trawlers. Now, everybody knows about endangered Gorillas and Polar Bears because they’re familiar but what about the Blobfish, they’re beautiful too.
So, the piece is kind of a celebration of the Blobfish. There’s no irony in it to hide behind which means I need to be strong. It’s actually really hard when people don’t like my works because I love them.
You must be feeling exposed with such a large show about to be judged en masse?
Yeah, a little bit. But it’s actually the best chance I’ve ever had to show all the layers of my work rather than just showing one aspect. Every artist dreams about having a show like this one. There’s almost 80 works! I mean, that’s everything I’ve done for 15 years…it’s a big deal for me.
(This interview was originally published in May 2011 issue of The Adelaide Review)