PICCININI, Patricia (1965 - )
Sandman, Natural Selection, 2002
Type C digital photograph, 1035 x 1845 mm (image), signed lower right and editioned lower left in an edition of 30, housed in a white timber frame (light marks) with perspex, aluminium backing, outer dimensions 1175 x 1985 mm.
Patricia Piccinini’s Sandman series of photographs and objects was first exhibited at the opening of the Ian Potter Centre at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2002. The series, which centres around an icon of suburban Australia, the Holden Sandman panelvan, and its association with teenage rights of passage. The message in Natural Selection, one of her most iconic images, should be taken in context of the series, and shows a young woman evolving in response to her environment, by the emergence of gills on her neck in response to the power of the ocean and her desire to find a place of belonging. It also remains a beautiful and surreal image, at the same time familiar and foreign.
‘In her current exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Patricia Piccinini finds clues to the mysteries of human evolution, mixes them with other biological anomalies and weaves her evidence into a loose narrative that focuses on the peculiarly Australian teen folklore inspired by panel vans. Panel vans are a phenomenon endemic to forgotten suburbs and lost coastal towns. They are somewhat menacing, slightly threatening, strange cocoon-like incubators that are catalysts for teen rites of passage and rebellion. Piccinini’s ubiquitous yellow van is present as her young protagonists define their place in the complex world in which they find themselves. The twelve large format Sandman photographs depict vignettes from the lives of a young couple whose hopes and aspirations are saturated with an enveloping ennui that seems to emanate from everything around them: the blown sea, the white clouded skies and the slow dilation of time. Sometimes, despite the hype, nothing really seems to happen.
But there is definitely something happening in Piccinini’s boy-meets-girl tale. Momentous forces are constantly and imperceptibly at work. The young blonde heroine has strange incisions in her neck, the vestigial remains of amphibian breathing apparatus left over from our distant sea-dwelling ancestors. Apparently, even today, these ‘branchial arches’ are present in each human embryo until such time as they retreat prior to birth. In the film that accompanies the Sandman photographs, the same young woman swims away from the shore. She is in an unfamiliar environment–even with her gills. When she goes down deep in the water, she finds a blissful serenity and she encounters a large and ancient fish. But she cannot properly breathe there. She finds herself out of place both on land as an angst-ridden adolescent and in water as an animal whose evolutionary path has taken it elsewhere.
In addition to the photographs and the film, Piccinini has produced a series of customized motorbike helmets for not-necessarily-human-shaped skulls. These are helmets for strange morphologies, possibly evolutionary throwbacks or so-called birth deformities. But for Piccinini, they are not problematic. She has a strongly empathetic attitude to them and welcomes them into her community. Piccinini gives us her idiosyncratically intuitive responses to the complexities of biological and social evolution and weaves them into a loose and cinematic narrative, distilling the paranormal from the everyday.
Patricia Piccinini’s Sandman photographs and film were first exhibited at the opening of the Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria at its new location at Federation Square in 2002. The original NGV installation will be exhibited between October 2003 and January 2004 at the Hamburger Bahnhoff in Berlin as part of Face-up, an exhibition of contemporary Australian art curated by Britta Schmitz. Patricia Piccinini is presently representing Australia at the 50th Venice Biennale with a group of biomorphic sculptures titled, We are Family. Piccinini has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne and the National Gallery of Victoria. She exhibited in the 2002 Biennale of Sydney, the 2002 Liverpool Biennale (UK) and the 2001 Berlin Biennale. Her work is held by most public collections in Australia as well as numerous private and corporate collections in Australia and overseas. Precautionary Tales will be Patricia Piccinini’s third solo exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.
– Press Release, Roslyn Oxley9 website http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/news/releases/2003/09/11/54/
In Christie’s Sydney, 2004, a record price was set for Sandman, Natural Selection at AUD $23,900 (including premium).
‘Flagship: Australian Art in the National Gallery of Victoria, 1790 – 2000,’ The Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 28 November 2002 – 23 February 2003 (another example)
‘Precautionary Tales’, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, 2003
Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, 2003
Private collection, Brisbane, acquired from the above