Patricia Piccinini

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“When I first saw Patricia Piccinini’s work a few years ago, I recognized a sister in technoculture,” writes Donna Haraway in The Multispecies Salon. She is “a co-worker committed to taking ‘naturecultures’ seriously without the soporific seductions of a return to Eden.”

“Piccinini’s worlds are full of youngsters–including pink and blue truck babies promising to tell where grown-up trucks come from, ambiguously fetal-like transgenics in Science Story, eager if blob-ish stem cell playgroups with a girl in a polka-dot smock, Euro-Australian children paired with fabulated introduced species of indeterminate age, animorphic motorcycle neonates in Nest (2006), vividly colored cyclepups, naked pink synthetic paedomorphic ‘siren moles’ in the SO2 series” (Haraway 2014: 242-243).

“Most of Piccinini’s works are premised on bioscientific practices of manipulation and alteration of living beings, of creating ‘new worlds’…Stem cell research, genetic engineering, cloning, bioelectronics, and technologically mediated ecological restoration and kin formation loom large. ” Both Still Life with Stem Cells and The Young Family reorient the arrow of time (Haraway 2014: 248).

Commenting on those big-headed and ungainly synthetic organisms called siren moles, such as the one on the blue car seat in Waiting for Jennifer (SO2 Series), Jacqueline Millner, the writer on Australian contemporary art, concluded, “Unlike Dr. Frankenstein who grew to hate his creation and suffered the consequences, Piccinini would urge us to bring an attitude of love to the products of technology…The love she appears to propose is not of the romantic, infatuated ilk–classic technophilia–but of the familial variety, with its overtones of responsibility, ethical guidance and life-long commitment” (Haraway 2014: 249).

"Waiting for Jennifer" (SO2 Series) by Patricia Piccinini (2000). Digital C-type photograph 80 x 80 cm.
“Waiting for Jennifer” (SO2 Series) by Patricia Piccinini (2000). Digital C-type photograph 80 x 80 cm.

The Leather Landscape exhibited in “We Are Family” at the Venice Biennale involved a colony of humanoid, transgenic African meerkat-like beings. “What arrests me in this more than natural colony,” Haraway continues, “is not the pink-suited blond human toddler face-to-face with a fabulated playmate living on soft white leather in the museum space.  Rather, I am struck by the four-breasted female sitting peaceably on the next level up of the pyramidal habitat, with her milk-lust babies nestled between her legs ready to attach to her alluring array of ventral teats” (Haraway 2014: 249-250).

"Leather Landscape" by Patricia Piccinini (2003). Silicone, polyurethane, leather, human hair.
“Leather Landscape” by Patricia Piccinini (2003). Silicone, polyurethane, leather, human hair.

One of Haraway’s favorite Piccinini critters, from the Nature’s Little Helpers series, served as a poster child for The Multispecies Salon. This Bodyguard was created to protect the Golden Helmeted Honeyeater, or HeHo (read more here).  “These birds are multiply dependent on companion species relations among gum trees, a kind of possum, and their feathered selves to get their sugary meals of oozing sap.” Piccinini has created a series of fictional photographs depicting the Bodyguard  in “complex naturalcultural ecologies and economies with contemporary people”  (Haraway 2014: 251-252).

“Look closely at the Bodyguard sitting beside young Alice,” Haraway instructs.  “Then look at the infant Bodyguard sitting with baby Hector.  These youngsters do not find each other strange; they are coeval, in shared time.  They are full of the promise of reconciliation if their parents can learn to face the past in the present” (Haraway 2014: 252).

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bodyguard flier

Further Reading

Haraway, Donna (2014) “Speculative Fabulations for Technoculture’s Generations: Taking Care of Unexpected Country” in Eben Kirksey (ed) The Multispecies Salon. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 242-261.

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a companion to the book