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Patricia Piccinini

Andrew Frost

Patricia Piccinini’s videos compliment her work in other media that includes installation, sculpture, photography, painting and film. Her constant thematic obsessions – the conflicted relationship between humans and nature and the possibly hubristic striving to replace nature with laboratory created facsimiles – unites a range of projects produced since the mid-90s. 

Piccinini’s early videos such as Protein Lattice [1997] and Big Sisters [1999] set the tone for many of her later works. Protein Lattice provides the audience with a rats-eye point of view as a snuffling rodent scampers around a computer generated maze, while Big Sisters features a cast of young Japanese women reciting rules of the road to camera as the image is intercut with pink-tinted images of busy roads. Lustre [1999] offers a close up glide over a metallic surface that slowly crazes and rusts before reassembling itself. This trio of works have the distinct feel of science fiction and, despite their deployment of low budget special effects, Piccinini’s pointed critique of futurism is apparent.

Works such as Horizon [1998] – a two-screen loop depicting a computer generated ocean; Swell [2000] – and three-screen computer generated sequence of huge ocean swells; and The Breathing Room [2000] – a three screen computer generated skein of apparently breathing flesh – strove to provide the viewer with a wholly immersive experience, placing the videos in installations that included loud, amplified sound and ominous rumbles. The notion of depicting “nature” through wholly artificial means has been a constant in Piccinini’s work and her elaborate Plasticology [1997-2003] is one her most persuasive works. Mounted for a Tokyo art gallery, Plasticology was an installation of dozens of television monitors of varying sizes displaying discreet images of sprouts, ferns, palms and oak trees all created via computer imaging. With one “plant” per monitor, the overall effect was one of a “forest” experienced via an unnerving, uncanny simulation of a natural environment situated wholly within synthetic space. 

Piccinini’s recent video works have become more elaborate, edging towards conventional cinematic grammar, albeit delivered with the artist’s trademark ambiguity. Plasmid Region [2003] and In Bocca Al Lupo [2003] are chilling, horrifying still lives of slowly pulsating fleshy blobs that grow and multiply without end. In The Gathering [2006-08] Piccinini deploys classic mis en scene of suburban horror – a quiet family home, deserted except for a child sleeping on a plush, carpeted floor. The house is otherwise empty – or is it? From behind curtains and from under beds emerge furry, mutant creatures that look like cats without heads that slowly surround the sleeping girl. Abruptly one creature parts its fur to reveal two glistening phallic protrusions... After a few moments, the video begins again. There is no closure and no relief from the horror.

b. 1965
Birth place
Freetown, Sierra Leone

Lives and works

Selected works
Selected events