The last few years has seen one of Australia’s most famous artists, Patricia Piccinini, launch her epic balloon artwork Skywhalepapa into the Canberra skies, and oversee a solo show that’s been touring Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Austria.
But the thing that’s really kept her busy over the past twelve months is a commission for RISING, Melbourne’s new arts and culture festival. A Miracle Constantly Repeated occupies eleven rooms of the disused and dilapidated Flinders Street Ballroom. Each is its own discrete landscape: mythical beasts in a Dandenongs-like mountainscape, a celestial field populated with 4,000 white ‘plants’, or a forest inhabited by large, scaly rodents.
Some rooms are dioramas completely transformed with sound, video and light, and some contain just a single sculpture alone in the sweeping space. Patricia has been working on most of the installation since the beginning of last year, and some since 2015.
Now, it’s finally here.
Hey Patricia! This new exhibition is such an exciting concept. Describe it to me.
To be honest, I’m never really sure how many works I have in a show, but there are 11 rooms, each with a fairly substantial installation featuring one or more works. Some rooms just have a single work, which others have half a dozen. I’ve made a new single channel video work, ‘We walk together’, featuring [actor] Jillian Nguyen that looks at ideas of resilience and inter-species connection, for example.
A lot of the rooms will be familiar to people who know my work, although always with new elements, but the Ballroom is a real departure for me. I felt that it demanded a very site-specific response. The work contains a lot of new glass pieces that I developed as part of a residency at Canberra Glassworks earlier this year, including some neon elements that I’m very excited about. It includes this very guitar and drums-heavy soundscape by Jess Green and Bob Scott that makes it very much the party at the end of the exhibition.
What is significant about the Flinders Street Ballroom as an exhibition space?
The area above Flinders Street Station is this legendary space that many have heard about but few haver actually visited. The spaces run off this massively long corridor that stretches the entire length of the platform, transitioning from office spaces to rooms that were once a library or the billiard room or gymnasium and eventually the ballroom.
The space has been unused since the mid 1980s, and was in pretty rough shape when we moved in. But this roughness is really quite beautiful, and the walls are scarred with the history of the place, with graffiti and old signage. The ballroom itself has only just been rescued from the results of years of overflowing gutters, but it has these wonderful proportions and details that are really special.
RISING describes the exhibition as an ‘ecosystem’ of your work. What does that mean?
I guess each of the rooms is a landscape, with flora and fauna and often fungi. I try to create these spaces where there is a certain internal logic, where things seem to fit together even if they are hybrid or imagined.
For example,’Celestial Field’ is a landscape of four thousand pure white hybrid plants that grown from the floor and hang from the ceiling, creating this compressed environment occupied by very sleek, animal-like sculptures locked in an ambiguous embrace. Neither of these elements are very natural, yet they seem to fit naturally together.
What is behind the name ‘A Miracle Constantly Repeated’?
The title comes from a quote by Lyman Abbot, who was a nineteen century liberal theologian interested in reconciling science and spirituality. I love the way it captures the everyday marvellousness of nature, the way that every sunrise is this event that is both extraordinary and the very definition of ordinary.
I hope that the show highlights just how lucky we are to be living in this world of miracles.
‘A Miracle Constantly Repeated’ will be on during RISING, from May 26th and June 6th. The exhibition has been extended beyond the festival, and will be open from June 7th – August 31st. Book a ticket here!
Learn more about the RISING program here, and Patricia’s work here.