If you’ve heard of the ‘Skywhale’ hot air balloon with multiple mammaries, then you are already familiar with Patricia Piccinini’s artwork. If you’re not yet aware of the Melbourne based artist, Piccinini commands a cult following (and with good reason). Her signature style includes fleshy, not-quite-human sculptures and anthropomorphic machinery. (I was first introduced to her creations at an international show over a decade ago and visions of her expertly fabricated artwork are still seared into my brain.) When her latest exhibition A Miracle Constantly Repeated was announced as part of the Rising Festival, it sold out almost instantaneously. The run has now been extended to 31 August (art lovers rejoice!) and it’s one I can enthusiastically recommend.
A Miracle Constantly Repeated is set in the historic building housing the long-hidden Flinders Street ballroom. So a ticket offers the added bonus of exploring the upper floors of the heritage building — complete with exposed brick, chipped plaster, and huge arched windows with views of trains rolling into the city. Reproduction is a subtle, repeating theme in the exhibition, from flowers with uteruses to a marine mammal nurturing a child. You’ll also find items that should be soft — mushrooms, flowers, and leather shoes — cast in hard glass. Whilst machinery takes on human-like forms, twisting into seductive shapes.
After hiking up 85 stairs (or taking the lift), you’ll first enter the dark room with an eerie soundscape and wooded diorama. It’s based on the ash forests of the Dandenong Ranges, but it also includes imagined creatures, like a genetically engineered bettong (a marsupial know as a rat kangaroo).
You’ll find these signature chimaera sculptures throughout the exhibition. (Chimaera originated from Greek mythology and is a creature created out of more than one animal). One of my favourite examples is the sculpture titled ‘While She Sleeps.’ It depicts two intertwined figures that both look human and also possess features of the extinct thylacine.
Another memorable installation was ‘The Couple’. Two life-size, not-quite-human beings are in bed, locked in an embrace. Viewers are allowed to step into the couple’s room, strewn with clothing, 1970s kitchenware, cables, and an old disassembled telephone. The experience feels both intimate and intrusive.
‘The Couple’ fills the exhibition room for a more immersive viewer experience. The same can be said for ‘Celestial Fields,’ where flowers subtly endowed with reproductive organs descend from the ceiling and sprout from the floor. Unfortunately, due to the historic nature of the building, Piccinini had limitations on her ability to alter or attach things to the walls. As a result, one minor criticism is some of her pieces look plunked-down in the exhibition rooms, rather than melded with the building’s architecture.
The exhibition ends in the fabled ballroom. Here Piccinini pays homage to the room’s original purpose. A dynamic diva chimaera greets visitors upon entry. Past the still-life stage queen, a tree planted from the seed of a disco ball sprouts in the middle of the ballroom. Bat and echidna-like creatures nestle amongst shiny metal, twisted neon lights, and throbbing music. Whilst another chimaera surveys the scene from the balcony.
Following Melbourne’s fourth lockdown, we’re all going to need some art to nourish our souls this winter and A Miracle Constantly Repeated provides plenty of ‘food for thought’. The convenient CBD location also means there’s ample opportunity to nourish your body with food and drinks, whilst supporting local hospitality venues. I was lucky enough to visit on an afternoon just before lockdown that was so quiet it almost felt like an exclusive viewing. However, I’d love to come back to see Piccinini’s surreal world come alive after dark.
Jenny Schmidt is an event adventurer. When she’s not attending live shows, you can find her sampling craft beers and dreaming about using her passport to travel internationally (and not just when she’s crossing the Yarra).
A Miracle Constantly Repeated runs through 31 August 2021. We recommend booking early and bringing headphones for the free online audio guide. Book tickets now.