Patricia Piccinini: Curious Affection for the Uncanny Valley

Patricia Piccinini's "The Comforter", Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, 24 July 2018. Photo by Michael de Percy.

The "Uncanny Valley" creeps me out no end, so I entered Patricia Piccinini's recent exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art with some trepidation. 

The art works on display are so real, I kept waiting for one of the figures to blink or turn around. Like Nathan, the stuffed lion at the South Australian Museum. I stood there looking at him in his glass  box. And then his tail moved.

I was completely freaked out. Thankfully, the story of Nathan confirmed that there was indeed a windscreen wiper motor driving the tail, but it was so infrequent, and so life-like. I still shudder. 

At "Curious Affection" (thank God), nothing moved, but it was so real I expected it to happen at any moment.

This incredible blend of fantastical creatures with human and life-like qualities is not to be missed. The layout of the first half of the exhibition gave the impression that it was all over, except for a large outdoor balloon bladder thing  (Pneutopia) that could be viewed from inside and out.

As I followed the signs towards the exit, a small sign read "Exhibition Continues". And here I walked into a darkened room for the full uncanny valley experience.

The second part of the exhibition was quite the uncanny valley experience. Photo by Michael de Percy.

I admit that I was most comfortable when other people were in the vicinity. This would be a great setting for an uncanny valley horror movie. I found The Couple mesmerising and had to return to it several times.

Patricia Piccinini's "The Couple" at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. Photo by Michael de Percy.

I mean, Duane Hanson's "Woman with a Laundry Basket" is enough to freak me out, but that couple in the caravan, now that freaked me out no end. I couldn't look away.

Piccinini takes this type of art to a whole new level. I saw the Curious Beasts exhibition at the SA Museum in early 2017. It was not uncommon for fake mermaids and other unnatural curiosities to be made and sold for profit in the 19th century. But Piccinini's work defies imagination.

With Piccinini's work, you know it is not real, it doesn't pretend to be real, but you can't really be sure. Now that's the uncanny valley.