February 20, 2014

POSTED BY

Hahna Busch

CATEGORY

That Thing in the Sky

Patricia Piccinini is one of Australia’s most notable contemporary artists, creating work that has a tendency to challenge viewers and create a fair amount of debate. Her sculptures are often startling and grotesque, examining connections between science, nature and the artificial, and her best known works address concerns and make …

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Patricia Piccinini is one of Australia’s most notable contemporary artists, creating work that has a tendency to challenge viewers and create a fair amount of debate. Her sculptures are often startling and grotesque, examining connections between science, nature and the artificial, and her best known works address concerns and make comment on biotechnology and consumer culture. Yet Piccinini’s work some how draws audiences in, captivating them through the realism, intimacy and vulnerability she depicts.

Her latest work is the Skywhale, a 111 foot long, 75 foot high hot-air balloon (that’s twice the size of a standard hot-air balloon), a sculpture that questions what is natural and what is artificial. The whale features ten rather voluptuous breasts hanging from its sides, a reference to the nurturing and maternal nature of the creature, but also commenting on the world of genetic engineering and biotechnology, and how these technologies may affect the relationship between people and nature. Created for the 2013 centenary celebrations of Australia’s capital city, Canberra, Piccinini wanted the Skywhale to ask what if?, with a far more emotional and intimate purpose than pure commentary.

But while the work was never intended to shock audiences, it has caused much debate across our country. Having been displayed in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and now Brisbane before it continues on around the world, there has been much controversy over the Skywhale. Many claim the work is confronting and unsightly and do not agree that such a work should have been tax-payer funded. Others have thought it a joke and source of ridicule towards the centenary celebrations. However, on the whole, passion and empathy for the work seems to be gathering momentum as it moves around the country. Audiences are in awe at its size and presence, and while often skeptical, once they see it up close are quickly appreciating Piccinini’s purpose.

The work speaks for itself. Have a look and make up your own mind – is the Skywhale a masterpiece of contemporary art, or just a buxom balloon floating in the Australian skies?

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Skywhale being inflated
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Protein Lattice, Patricia Piccinini 2000
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The Young Family, Patricia Piccinini 2002

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