NATHAN SCOLARO: So I wanted to start just by hearing where you’re at. We’re a few months into your exhibition now, well and truly on the other side of that enormous creation period. How are you feeling?
PATRICIA PICCININI: Well I’m feeling very good about the exhibition. It was eight years in the making. Three years of fabrication. And being able to walk through it in real life rather than in my mind is fantastic. Every day I would walk through the exhibition many times in my mind, imagining it. So being able to be with it in the real world is a great feeling. To be honest, I want to be with it all the time. I keep going back.
Yes. Just to be with it. Having the show at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane has been an incredible chance for me to bring this whole world to life, but I miss it. Sometimes I’ll install a show in a city and just fly in, install it, do the talks and fly out. And I never see it again. But this show I’m very, very sort of viscerally connected to.
Has it been realised in the way it played out in your mind?
Absolutely. When I presented the proposal to Chris Saines, the director of the gallery, it had within it the architectural space, the whole design. And they were able to build it exactly to the drawings. There were no compromises that I had to make. They just did it. And that is a very rare thing! [Laughs].
Such a privilege.
Yes! They did that and more. I was very, very happy.
What’s coming to mind for me is this idea of it being a creation story.
I think you’re right. It is a story about how we see the world. This particular world is about fecundity, which is the potential for life. Much of the show is around reproduction and fertility, the mechanisms for life. Not only physical but emotional too. So the whole place is steeped in ideas to do with birth, maternity, pregnancy, pollination. There are signs that abound like eggs, fruiting bodies, babies, flowers, nurturing. We witness all these things in the exhibition, this world is animated by ideas of creation.
I loved what you said in your speech at the launch of the exhibition. About what happens to a mother during childbirth. Can you share that again?
Yes. So, we know that we pass on a lot of our genetic traits to our children. It’s obvious when we look at them. But what we didn’t know was that children pass things back to us. We know through science now that this happens — that cellular material passes through a boundary that we thought you couldn’t get through, the placenta. Cells travel from the foetus into the mother’s body and they lodge themselves in places like the heart. And we think they do that because pregnancy’s a tough process on the body. And sometimes a mother’s heart can’t cope well, so it needs fortifying. And that’s what these cells do. They’re there to heal the mother’s heart. And those cells also go to other places like the brain. They change the mother’s body. And this is a beautiful thought because we look at this relationship between mother and child in a different way. It’s not all one way. And it also presents the mother as a kind of chimera. She’s made up of not one lot of cells from one individual, but two. Sometimes three or four if she has more children. So that is for me a particularly interesting thought, considering that we want to see ourselves increasingly as individuals in the world. We see ourselves as people that are apart from others, people focused just on themselves because they’re unique and only made up of their own material. And now we know that that’s scientifically not true. And it’s a beautiful metaphor for how we look at difference. We’re not just one contained unique form, that’s not true at all. On a practical, physical level we embrace difference. So how can we do it emotionally? And even intellectually.
That’s what I was thinking, that this shows us how on a bodily level we are always in service to one another. The typical thinking might have been that the mother is in service to the child but this science is also suggesting that the child is serving mother, they’re co-dependent. It reminds me of the trees and this cellular network that happens underground with trees feeding one another.
Nature’s full of these relationships. The mycelium in fungi is this incredible fibrous network that finds water and nutrients and sends it back up to the mushroom when
it wants to reproduce. It also seems that fungi have this symbiotic relationship with trees. The fungi almost mine minerals from rocks that they pass on to trees, and in return the fungi harvest carbohydrates from the photosynthesis that takes place in the trees. So this co-dependency is happening between different organisms, even. Different species. Even between different natural kingdoms.
It’s phenomenal to think how we’ve got this mindset of disconnection when nature says the complete opposite.
That we’re all connected. Yeah.
So let’s keep talking about science and biology ’cause that’s how a lot of people interact with your work, but I don’t think it’s your primary concern.
Well actually I just take science as a given. And I see science as something that creates this very fundamental relationship that defines how we understand ourselves and our relationships with other creatures and our bodies and the environment. So science mediates these relationships. That’s why I’m interested in it. Science is the way we’ve come to
understand the world. In the past it was religion. And before that it was spiritualised mythologies. And now it’s science that’s explaining the world around us and how we relate. And it also is a way of projecting how we want the world to be and how we fear it will end up. Usually it’s one of these two possibilities. So it’s either dystopic or it’s a paradise future. But there is also a space in this dialogue about how the world might be. And that’s the place that I inhabit. Because