If any one of Piccinini’s creatures came to life and started talking or gesturing or going about their business while I was curiously browsing through the rooms of Hotel Patricia, I wouldn’t have been surprised. On the contrary. I’d probably be incredibly happy to have a chance to interact with them. Asking about their lives, their thoughts, what is it like to be, say, the builder boy with a beaver tail and a beaver teeth sitting in the middle of a room covered with white linen sheets thinking about how to build an erect structure with nonmalleable material… Or I’d have invited them to a mischievous play, much like the two actors of Welcome Guest who give the impression that they are meeting for the first time, but most probably they are just about to play… Don’t know. Whichever comes first. Sensation of play aside, I guess I’m not alone in this coming-to-life sentiment. Patricia Piccinini’s creatures that have chosen to become part of her Curious Imaginings exhibition held on the first floor of Hotel Patricia in Vancouver’s downtown east side incites a desire to learn the stories of its still inhabitants, most probably because of a whole genre of novels, films, TV shows, and short stories associating derelict hotels with sad and complicated stories of those who come to stay. With that spirit, one wonders about the young woman holding a transgenic creature in The Bond. Is she a representation of the maternal bond as her official ID card, the exhibit leaflet and the plaque at the door, would have us believe? Or could we read her and the creature she’s holding carrying the worried look of a clumsy secret agent on a secret mission to single-mom’s society who commissioned the “wrong baby”?
This is probably not what Piccinini had in mind when she and her co-conspirators (or co-creators I must say) in her workshop had in mind when they built The Bond; or any of her works for that matter. In the couple of times I heard her speak in Vancouver (her artist’s talk at the York Theatre, and the casual conversation at the Library Mezzanine during September Lunch Crunch at Emily Carr) twice she proclaimed her work to be centering on the distinction between what is natural and what is artificial, and on notions of relationships and connections where she highlighted maternal intimacy the most. At a particular instance in the conversation, she even referred to her works as her children. She proclaims herself to be a mother, a woman, a feminist, and an offspring of the postmodern age (in that order of priority if I am not mistaken), where reproduction, femininity, the boundaries between nature and nurture, nature and artificiality did take on precedence over a whole lot of issues, defined the borders of ethics and politics, and draw the contours of her work at the same time. She does still carry that particular streak, and she does enmesh with the world on these terms. Postmodern is her contemporary. And most certainly, in the context of the postmodern, Piccinini’s creatures are what she intends them to be: different, heteronormative, ugly-but-beautiful, vulnerable, amiable. The transgenic creature in The Welcome Guest (2011), whom we find cute but not sure how close we would like our children to be close (or that is how Piccinini wants us to question the work); or the pre-teen girl of The Comforter (2010), who, to Piccinini’s surprise, interests the viewers more than the transgenic creature she is holding because of her genetic condition, hypertricosis. In her world all these are the ‘others’, they are anything but normal… Take The Couple (2018). In an apparent homage to the work of Mary Wollenscraft Shelley (she is keen on using her maiden name) on this 200th year of the publishing of Frankenstein, she sculpts a couple, part human part bear, and display them in an incredibly intimate room, in an incredibly intimate pose (apparently post-coitus). They are monsters we are supposed to love not hate, and are certainly not hated and ostracized by their creator for that matter. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster. Again, their official ID card tells us that “Piccinini imagines them to be, ‘the only two creatures of their kind, and somehow they have found each other, and escaped.”” The same specie monsters that do have a possibility for reproduction. In another world. Outside of this society. Just like her vespa stags: always in the couple form, two of a kind, completely mechanic creatures courting one another on what appears to be a foreplay. Only beings of one kind could reproduce. Reproduction is not possible for any inter-species beings.
The others of the self, the abnormals of the normals, the different of the same; in a nutshell, the heteronormative streak in the normative world. Maybe not their mirror image per se (lets be open to possible readings, and say they are not), but all of them do have a desire to seek an/other world to realize themselves. The utopian, open, empty space of another universe.
Below you will find a different reading; a weirding of some of Piccinini’s works at the Hotel Patricia in downtown east side Vancouver.
The Bond (2016)
Given that there are two luggages, the young woman-transgenic creature couple seem to be on a long journey. Would that make the woman a single mom who recently gave birth to a transgenic child, and ended up in Hotel Patricia because her community chastised her? Or has she adopted this lovely creature whose back is the sole of a running shoe so that she could go and live in a world of dedicated and addicted runners who ended up procreating runner babies? Is she an outcast or an eager adventurer? Or is the whole relationship the other way around: did the creature chose the woman to be her transport because where they are going, the best transport is the one where young women wearing boots? Which way is the relationship? Just because we see the duo in a caring pose —caring human / cared for animal pose— are we going to understand that the relationship is one way? Can there be no other possibility? No other relationality or connection that we could form in between these two forms?
To be continued…