Glimpsing the human spirit: Patricia Piccinini's vision

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Patricia Piccinini explores the interaction between science and spirit; the humanity in her artworks - regardless of how grotesque some may appear - cry out for empathy.

These deformed figures speak of the horrors of genetic technology, of the ethical conundrums that shroud scientific inquiry.

In The Long Awaited (2008), a boy rests his head against an old woman with a dugong's body. How do we reconcile the serenity that their peaceful slumber evoke with our revulsion of the outwardly different - yet clearly human-looking - figure?




The Long Awaited speaks of redemption and benediction. There is a surprising sweetness in the figures' postures that we somehow understand that mutations don't matter.



A mother reclines, surrounded by her brood, in The Young Family (2005). Her flesh folds and sags, the very portrait of resignation and lethargy. Yet, her eyes hold neither condemnation nor judgment. We inevitably step forward, compelled by the stories she embody.


Foundling (2008) looks at us with longing eyes. It wants to be comforted, to be picked up and loved, just like other babies. Yet, in many ways, it is different from them.


In biotechnology, we augment physical attributes - increased muscle strength, intelligence, longevity, viral immunity and the list runs on. What happen if the effects aren't what we desired? Instead of longer and stronger legs, we get two more pairs of limbs. What do we do then?

Piccinini goes beyond this criticism of unethical experiments on living creatures; she speaks of wisdom, of accepting people despite physical differences. The nonjudgmental acceptance of unsightly creatures by their fellow human beings suggests the redemptive influence of the spirit.

It is all too easy to judge and criticise and ostracise based on tangible differences. However, Piccinini offers a tantalising vision - judging and criticising need not be the norm.

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