Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Life of Their Own

Australian artist Patricia Piccinini’s solo show at Yvon Lambert, The place where it actually happens, contains only two sculptures, Thicker Than Water (2007) and Nest (2006). While the acclaimed artist is known in the New York art world for her realistically rendered, genetically engineered mythical creatures that resemble a half baboon-half human hybrid, this small exhibition presents a sample of auto-related art that has been exhibited elsewhere for the past ten years. Continuing her investigations of the intersections of technological advances and biological life forms, Piccinini anthropomorphizes motorbikes in this series, following in the vein of previous projects Truck Babies and Car Nuggets.

In Nest a shiny, snail-like moped mother figure looks down at her baby moped offspring with a sense of tenderness, her body curving protectively around the tiny object. The rounded bicycle figures are at once life-like and clearly identifiable as mechanical constructions, conflating the space between animal and machine. Finished in candy colored pink and pearl automotive paint, the bike animals are cute enough to appeal to children (of all ages) and would fit right in at SoHo’s designer-toy-peddling Kid Robot store. It’s hard not to be completely taken with Piccinini’s sleek slugs, and to want to name them and take them home.

The smaller of the two sculptures, Thicker Than Water, features two of the baby mopeds in what might be to them, a close embrace. One of the creatures snuggles over the other in a stance that could be interpreted as either protective or playful, but loving nonetheless. It is amazing that the artist can convey such humanness in the vehicles, a quality that is both endearing and irking.

Once the cuteness factor of the two pieces is digested, the viewer is left to contemplate the connection of these life forms to the non-living technological devices in their own lives. How often do we give names to our automobiles? Have we forged real, emotional attachments to inanimate possessions before, and are they capable of these attachments as well? In the small front gallery at Yvon Lambert and in the imagination of Piccinini, these questions are explored through a disarmingly tender and aesthetically appealing format.

On an even deeper level, the mopeds represent the underlying fear of automated machines becoming more powerful and more cognizant than humans, or at least of running society through mental enslavement. It is already apparent that humans cannot function without the mechanical devices they created. Nearly every pedestrian on the streets of Manhattan is using a cellphone, MP3 player, or another technological invention that separates them from their surroundings. When one of these objects that have become extensions of the body is lost or non-functioning, daily tasks can be almost impossible to complete.

While Piccinini’s kid-friendly moped beings are fun, pretty, and smile-inducing, they also have a sinister side that probes issues that are all too relevant to our modern dependence on and use of technology. The small and largely critically overlooked exhibition packs a comparatively hefty dose of enjoyment and contemplation into these two sculptures. Piccinini once again strikes a chord that connects on a very real level, and that is visually interesting, and conceptually complicated.

Bjork, Modern Things:

All the modern things

Like cars and such

Have always existed

They've just been waiting in a mountain

For the right momentListening to the irritating noises

Of dinosaurs and people

Dabbling outside

All the modern things

Have always existed

They've just been waiting

To come out

And multiply

And take over

It's their turn now...

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