Why does this ‘ugly’ painting matter? Patricia Piccinini’s Naturally Artificial World

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You’ve probably walked past it hundreds of times – whether you’ve expressed disgust, glanced with curiosity or never actually noticed – it’s right there in the Billiards Room. Waiting.

Whatever your opinion (or lack thereof), Patricia Piccinini’s Waiting for Jennifer (2000) is far more significant, both in terms of its meaning and financial value than we often realise. Personally, we think that when the Brack Sub bought this artwork in 2001, after a vote by the Students’ Club, they were definitely on to something.

Not many of us appreciate just what a fascinating piece of art this is. Today, Patricia Piccinini is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most intriguing artists. She has earned an international reputation for her work and has pieces in all of Australia’s major galleries.

Throughout her work, Piccinini actively engages with what she describes as “the often specious distinctions between the artificial and the natural”. Our much loved ‘foetus-dog’ plays with themes that recur across much of her work: the impact of consumerism on society, the rising influence of biotechnology and bioethics, and notions of humanity and identity – what it means to be human in the 21st century. She investigates these ideas whilst cultivating a sense of empathy, which deliberately complicates our emotional response to the work.

Though it seems unlikely, Piccinini creates a strange world that resides very close to our daily reality. In Waiting for Jennifer, the morphed, alien-like figure is confined to a normal, everyday environment – it sits in the car, just like we would. The location of this unusual figure in such an everyday environment generates conflicting reactions. We simultaneously feel repulsion, tenderness and uneasiness resulting from our strange identification with this creature. Ultimately, her work is designed to challenge us. Piccinini writes:

I think if people are disturbed by my work it is because it asks questions about fundamental aspects of our existence – about our artificiality, about our animalness, about our responsibilities towards our creations, our children and our environment – and these questions should be easy to answer but they are not. What I love is when people argue over what the work is trying to say, when they begin the process of examining the issues from a number of perspectives. I love watching a person move from an initial sense of revulsion against the strangeness of my creations towards a sense of understanding or sympathy. I love it when people realise that all this stuff is actually about our lives today.

Piccinini’s work is just one of a number of significant pieces in the Students’ Club’s collection. This year, we are excited to be incorporating seven new acquisitions as part of a rejuvenation of the collection. We hope this inspires a stronger appreciation of the visual arts and showcases the purpose and value of the Brack Fund for the Ormond community.

Brack is not simply a valuable financial asset; it is also a core part of the history and culture of our Students’ Club. As Piccinini’s work exemplifies, art can be a powerful tool for rigorous engagement with new ideas and different perspectives. Perhaps next time when you walk through the Billiards room, take a moment to stop and appreciate this curious work.