Patricia Piccinini’s silicone sculptures imagine a not-so-distant future where humans have mastered genetic manipulation and can create animals to serve their every emotional, social, and ecological need. Her transgenic creations serve as companions for children, protectors for endangered species, and even surrogate mothers. The results are often at the same time tender and repulsive.Piccinini, who has lived in Australia since childhood, works with a critical eye toward genetic manipulation. Her series “Nature’s Little Helpers,” which includes “The Bodyguard,” “Getaway,” “The Surrogate,” and “Big Mother,” envisions creatures that have been created to protect and rehabilitate the Australian ecosystem:
The sculptures present a series of creatures that I have designed to ‘assist’ a series of the endangered Australian animals. In the photographs, we follow more closely one of these creatures, ‘The Bodyguard (for the Golden Helmeted Honeyeater)’. It is very seductive to think that we could find a simple technological solution to complex ecological problems such as extinction. It is far more exciting to talk about genetic engineering than to designate a large area of habitat/real estate as national park so that dozens or even hundreds of native species might be given a better chance of survival. We have a long history of scientifically introducing new stuff into our environment in order to make it better, however it has rarely worked. Yet our relatively recent understanding of genetics seems to have left us ready to add yet more stuff in an unprecedented way. Why do we think we have it all figured out now?
But the inclusion of children in many of her sculptures, who treat these unnatural creations with little more than curiosity, wonder, and affection but a different spin on the story, suggesting that the next generation would neither view these animals with revulsion nor focus merely on their usefulness. And another series, “Nest and The Stags,” lends overtly animalistic qualities to motor vehicles.