PETER HENNESSEY + PATRICIA PICCININI
ALONE WITH THE GODS
Following on from our first collaboration ‘The Shadows Calling’ at Detached in Hobart earlier this year, this exhibition continues to explore the construction of an immersive, narrative space that combines sculpture, audio, scent, video, installation and narrative.
The work will transform the gallery into a parallel world, cut off from the everyday realities of the contemporary life yet inextricably linked with it. The world will house a series of new artworks that form an environment within which a complex narrative will be deployed using spoken word and video.
Conceptually, the work will explore the nation of ‘worlds apart’; spaces and populations that self-consciously separate themselves from the everyday world, in order to create a new reality for themselves. Such worlds are mysterious but comprehensible, on the edge of familiar. They are worlds which tend to operate within the confines of their own belief systems, which are self evident to the inhabitants but make no sense to us. Yet its is precisely this disconnect that calls the status quo into question.
When the viewer enters this world it is deserted, abandoned, and they are free explore it and try to understand what went on, and why.
Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey
I never thought that I would be the last to leave. Or the last left. I always thought that I was the most sceptical. So that’s ironic I guess. To be the last. I was not the first to arrive, obviously. There was already a group gathered around the big guy when I got here. I am still a bit surprised - or at least perplexed - that I ended up following him. I mean, it’s just not the sort of thing I do. Or did. But here I am, so anyway... I mean I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t aware of his charisma. It was undeniable, almost palpable, but I fancied myself immune. But, like all of us, I was flattered when he turned his attention to me, and somehow when he suggested that they needed me - that he needed me... Well, somehow it made sense. It seemed so obvious when he said it. Definitely a truth, not a manipulation. So I didn’t so much ‘agree’ as succumb. Succumb to the tectonic inevitably of it. How could I not?
So we closed the door on the garden. We sealed ourselves in, exchanging the everyday expansiveness of the outside for the concentrated economics of the terrarium; self-fertilising. Marinating in our own juices.
We always called it the garden. A garden is a space where we take control of growth; where we harness the forces of organic vigour and drive them along paths of our own choosing. In this respect the big man had the greenest of thumbs. He had a way of isolating raw vitality and redirecting it in new directions that were unexpected yet somehow fitting; impossible to predict but obvious in retrospect. He would coax out rampant physiognomies and potentialities, explode them, then somehow repack them into themselves - forming eggs out of omelettes. We marvelled at the physical poetry that he wove.
Until of course we saw what his daughter was capable of. Her genius was of an altogether different kind: hers was magic to his conjuring, perfume to his deodorant, coffee to his tea. She was simultaneously more subtle and more pungent. More shocking and more sympathetic.
Under her hands and her gaze the garden grew strange and profuse and in ways that seemed determined to defy taxonomy - to ignore any system of classification. It was she who showed us that growth was not solely the preserve of the organic. I mean, she could find the energy in anything; see it like it was strings or something, and weave those strings like macramé.
The goal had always been self-sufficiency of the most radical kind: A closed system; an architectural Petri dish where the inputs are nothing more than the agar jelly of the world around us. Urban osmosis. The diffusion of the city’s energy through the porous membrane of our membership. It was a dream ultimate recirculation. We would stay forever. Cocooned together in an amorphous and protean stability; endless transmutation without expansion or contraction. Sort of oscillating. We would be preserved within our chrysalis but it would be the world outside that would be undergoing metamorphosis.
The big guy was convinced of that. He assured us - no, he ‘informed’ us - because assurances are only required if you have the ability to doubt. And any sort of scepticism was long gone from us, eroded by darkness and dependency. Anyway, we were informed - and we accepted - that while we toiled in his lugubrious realm, the world outside was freezing - or boiling or exploding or descending into internecine chaos. Something like that. The exact nature of the external Armageddon tended to vary, but somehow the force of his personality seemed to make that inconsistency either unimportant or invisible.
In those early days, we struggled. In both senses, actually; we worked hard but we just couldn’t quite make it. His skills and his systems - while impressive - just didn’t seem to keep to up with the expenditures within the system. This excess expenditure therefore needed to be reduced. That ‘expenditure’ of course was us. And reduce we did. Yes we did. But even as we got more and more emaciated - desiccated and skinny - even as we grew thinner, he grew. We took this as a good sign. Proof that things were working. We revelled in his swelling, his inexplicable corpulence even as we became corpse-like ourselves.
I don’t actually remember how I felt when I realised he was giving birth. I guess I was both shocked and anxious. I awoke one night to the sounds of his groans. I can’t be sure that I was astonished when I saw the new cleft in him - previously unnoticed below the flap of his gut - distending and tearing open as the force of something solid pushed its way free. I saw an eye, opening, and an elbow trying to find purchase on the slippery, all too yielding belly flesh. You’d reckon this would have been enough to free my own mind from the viscous jelly of famished exhaustion, but it took a grunted command from the big man himself to force me into action. He pushed and I pulled and she came free. And it all seemed to make perfect sense. Perfect sense.
She changed everything. She was luminescent; fluorescing in the dim cavern of our garden, introducing the radiance that the big man’s bulk had - we now realised - occluded. You can’t grow a garden entirely in shadow. And he cast a long shadow. Still, we should acknowledge our debt to him, his great legacy. Her. She. The daughter, I mean. That is his great gift to us.
And with the arrival of his daughter he changed. He shrunk. Internally hollowed out as if she had taken most of his mass - and thus his gravity - with her when she breached. Like she had pulled most of him out with her when she emerged. The weight of his personality - and his intractable certainty - suddenly seemed thin and tattered. He was a husk. We couldn’t believe we’d ever believed him. Yet even as he was diminished, he looked better somehow. Complimented by the illumination of her glow. He was easier to forgive now that we had the courage to blame him.
Our garden became quieter; by nature she was as taciturn as he was loquacious, and as time went on the comfortable weight of her silence drew us all closer to stillness. It was a different sort of hush from before; less mute exhaustion and more focused solemnity.
The way she went about stuff was different from his. He used the inertia of his being to push things along; it was a play of forces. Mass and stasis and kinetic energy and friction. Pushing against boundaries until they broke or pushed back. In hindsight it was crude even when it was effective. Her approach was more chemical; chimerical, alchemical. In her hands boundaries dissolved, things intermingled and coalesced. She had no concept of purity. Everything was soluble in everything else. Everything was a reagent, looking for the opportunity to alloy, to become something else.
For her, all matter was compost, all objects were fruits - seeds and nutrients bundled together - all space was a medium for growth, all energy was light. Forms dissolved, evaporated and crystallised. Growth was multiple, overlapping and indeterminate: Fungal growth re-metabolising waste without photosynthesis; vegetal growth where light becomes substance; animal growth internalising others to increase itself; crystal growth where geometric solidity is conjured out of liquid ambiguity; mechanical growth where labour is refined into historical systems.
Such distinctions meant nothing to her. She worked with all of them. Building nests and wombs and garden beds and swamps of primordial soup. Unlike the big man’s focus, which was limited and pragmatic, she delighted in proliferation for its own sake. Excrescence, diversity, unnecessary, useless abundance, bizarre variation for its own sake. These were her treasures, her pearls. Actually, now that I say it, pearls are the perfect metaphor. These strange collisions of the mineral and the biological are the perfect illustration of the condition she sought. Little bits of grit transformed from irritation to beauty through spit.
Without the psycho-emotional black hole of the big man’s obsession, our system lacked a structuring gravity. Our various individual orbits began to become increasingly eccentric. We began to atomise. We had already lost a substantial portion of our bulk on the morning when we realised that the big man - already functionally irrelevant - had ceased to function at all. Those of us left weren’t particularly surprised or affected. It was simply another inevitable stage in his inevitability: A process completed. However, without him, it wasn’t long before the daughter and I were all that remained in the garden.
I wasn’t unhappy with this at all. I had her to myself even if her attention was always directed elsewhere. I didn’t kid myself that she really needed me, but I made myself useful. We tended our plots and our wombs and our incubators. We harvested and husbanded and we thrived. But she had none of her father’s isolationist fervour. She was disconnected from the world by accident rather than temperament and before long she began to rub up against the limits of our realm; inhibited by the tiny world we inhabited. It’s finiteness made no sense to her, and the idea that our borders were actually impermeable was already obviously false. The reverse osmosis of people and stuff seeping back into the real world since the big man had died was a rapidly decomposing elephant in the room.
And so, I woke up to silence. The deep silence that comes with being alone. She was gone. I can’t imagine what she will make of the outside, but I guess she’ll be fine. What will she do with all that stuff? Her whole life has been making so much out of so little - maximising the minimum - but what happens with all that excess. I picture an explosion, an unstoppable frothing discharge rumbling beneath the face of the world. I wish I could see it. But I’m here and I am the last.