Passing by, your initial reaction to Patricia Piccinini’s surrealist artworks might be one of discomfort. You might feel unsettled by the hyperrealism of her anthropomorphic sculptures, or maybe even grossed out by them. However, if you look closer, you’ll spot an unmistakably gentle quality within all of her creatures.
“Hope”, an immersive exhibition in Tai Kwun, will run from May 24 to September 3. The exhibit features more than 50 works by the Australian artist, including a range of moving images, paintings and the artist’s signature sculptures that highlight the consequences of human interference in nature. The works deal with core concepts such as genetic modification and climate change.
Among one of the largest pieces in the exhibition is Celestial Field (2021), an installation of 4,500 plastic flowers that surround viewers, their stems dangling from the ceiling and sprouting from the ground.
Piccinini envisions her piece as a vast field where animal organs can grow, with the flowers symbolising fertility. What’s more, the work is also a commentary on the downsides of industrial farming techniques. Cultivated on such an immense scale, crops often lack the ideal nutrients that stimulate proper growth.
Piccinini’s sculptures are captivating in their uncannily lifelike forms. For instance, The Bond (2016) depicts a motherly figure with a child nestled in her arms, the baby displaying features of different animals such as pigs, dogs and armadillos. On top of this somewhat extreme combination, the baby’s spine protrudes, resembling the sole of a running shoe. The depiction challenges the boundary between what is considered man-made versus organic.
While Piccinini had expected that the sculpture would elicit unfavourable reactions from some audiences, she chose to focus on the beauty and devotion of the bond between a mother and her child. The artist had been interested in the overlapping realms between science and the human body since her childhood, when she witnessed every moment of her mother’s battle with liver cancer.
“Almost 40 years ago, if somebody had said to us, ‘Oh, we can save your mum, we can give her a new liver, but it has to come from this pig,’ we’d be going, ‘Great!’,” said the Australian artist. “We wouldn’t care if it was unnatural, if it was artificial – we just wanted her to live.”