Patricia Piccinini's 'Heartwood' and Huma Bhabha's 'Waiting for another game'
Published 02 September 2021
Hello, it's great to join you today from the National Gallery of Australia. Even though the National Gallery is closed, I'm joining you offsite on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. I'd like to pay my respects to elders past and present and emerging, and acknowledge that our First Nation's artists help guide and advance First Nation's perspectives at the national collection.
My name is Nick Mitzevich, the Director of the National Gallery. It is great to join you to talk about two works that are in our current exhibition at the National Gallery. The exhibition, titled Emotional Body, explores how artists throughout time have looked at the human condition and how figuration is an important way of conveying how we as a culture have emerged over hundreds of years. And the idea of spirituality, of love, and loss are really embedded across all cultures.
The two works that I want to talk about today share something in common. They're both intensely material in their rendering of both figurative and both monumental. Patricia Piccinini's work, Heartwood, made in 2018, includes silicon, hair, leather, motorcycle boots, helmets, and a full-sized eagle. This work is quite compelling in that it references both the physicality of a male torso but also automotive images that we associate with cars or motorcycles, and also notions of a tree inside. Patricia weaves these elements together to create this quite surreal work. Patricia is someone that is no stranger to Canberra or the National Gallery. She was born and raised in Canberra and studied at ANU. And I've had the great pleasure of working with Patricia for nearly two decades on various projects. So it's heartening to have this work on display, which is on loan from the artist. And as you can see, the work has so many arresting qualities.
And what I enjoy most about this work is that there's a surrealness to it. It brings together the man-made and the natural world in this quite extravagant and dynamic sculpture that asks us to question the role of technology and how it intersects with the natural world. And I find this work quite creepy. And in some ways, it's quite seductive that the various materials draw you in and want you to ask questions about this work. And you want to examine it. You want to look at the torso, the rendering of skin, the texture of leather, the shininess of the boots and the helmets, all play into creating both a surreal and realistic odd sculpture. And this plays off the work of Huma Bhabha, the Pakistani-born New York-based artist that also uses a variety of materials. And so in Huma Bhabha's work, Waiting for another game, made in 2018, which is a brand new addition to the national collection, includes polystyrene, spray paint and enamel, and recycled cork.
And so the artist brings both of these two materials, cork and styrofoam, together to both reference historical sculptures, and also the artificial and the man-made with the styrofoam and the aerosol spray paint. And what I really find fascinating about this work is that it looks back to the past and also into the future. So the figurative sculpture is a hybrid, looking forward and looking back, referencing the artist's own heritage and looking forward at the artificial world. And in some ways demonstrating the disconnect between history and progress. And I enjoy how both of Huma Bhabha's sculpture and also Patricia Piccinini's sculpture both work towards referencing both the natural world history and also technology, and what's ahead of us. They are both compelling and also disconcerting at the same time. And so I think that in this context, they both work off each other to ask us to think about where we've come from and where technology will take us.
And I think that these both are compelling works that ask us to question so many parts of the world we live in, and explores how it is to be human and how it is to interact with history and the natural world. And this was part of a larger exhibition that is the Emotional Body. And when the National Gallery reopens, I hope that you can find the time to visit Canberra and visit these two monumental sculptures by two important contemporary artists that are re-thinking what it is to make sculpture by using materials that are not necessarily associated with art.
And I think that when artists show us ways of manipulating form and materiality, they ask us to look at the world somewhat in a different way. And both of these artists ask us to consider where we've come from and where we're heading. And the materiality of these works draws us in and keeps us thinking. And I think that's an important part of art in the 21st century, to think about the world around us and how art asks so many more questions about the world. And I hope you get a chance to see these amazing works in situ. But for the time being, please enjoy the resources of the National Gallery online.
Nick Mitzevich, Director discusses Patricia Piccinini’s Heartwood (2018) and Huma Bhabha’s Waiting for another game (2018) on display in Emotional Body.
Opening Acknowledgment of Country
The National Gallery acknowledges the First Peoples of this land and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country