Patricia Piccinini

Sandman, Natural Selection, 2002
digital C Type photograph
103.5 x 184.5 cm

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From 'Sandman' series of 12 images
 Number 5 from an edition of 30

Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne  

Face Up: Contemporary Art from Australia, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2 October 2003 - 4 January 2004
Precautionary Tales, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, 2003
Flagship: Australian Art in the National Gallery of Victoria, 1790 - 2000,The Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 28 November 2002 - 23 February 2003

J Messenger, 'Patricia Piccinini: Once Upon a Time...' Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2011, illus

Drawn from a photographic tableau, this work forms part of the artist's 2002 installation Sandman. Named after the Holden Sandman panel van, symbolic of Australian beach culture in the 1970s, the installation came to be realised across sculpture, moving image and photography.

Here Piccinini recalls intrinsic parts of the suburban adolescent experience tempered by an eerie tension that makes this image, one of contemporary gothic sensibility. This narrative work is centered on the female character shown, and distinguished by a branding of branchial arches or gill-like incisions on her neck.

With graphic reference to the 19th century zoologist Ernst Haeckel (of views suggesting the progression of human embryonic development found its course in stages resembling our more remote ancestors), Piccinini marries this girl's journey of self-discovery with a critique on the future of biological evolution. With insidious realism, she presents a world not at all different from our own that tests our propensity to hubris by showing what it would look like to live comfortably in its aftermath.

The ambiguity in the neck lesions of our subject, are what truly recast the figure of human evolution in this coming-of-age melodrama, cornered by the very importance of aesthetic conformity. What initially appears as the wounding of a gruesome act, or a sci-fi intervention is in truth a naturally occurring structure; found in the human embryo, generally destined to become part of the inner ear as it develops.

The complexities of adolescent development, with its nuances of transition provide a beautiful and grounding foil to this line of evolutionary discussion. This is a resounding image from the artist, with all the sublime force of Friedrich’s allegorical 'Wanderer'.

  • Sandman, Natural Selection

Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

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Still to come