Patricia Piccinini: Blurring Natural and Artificial Boundaries with Empathy

The exhibition hall at Museum Macan, Jakarta, is enlivened by fantastical creatures with human-like gestures. Each being possesses the power to channel emotions that are difficult to translate. There is a sense of loss, falling in love, intimacy, warmth, and broader than all of these; a sense of empathy and concern that moves the heart. The creator of these beings, Australian artist Patricia Piccinini, refers to them as chimeras, a nod to the mythological creatures that are an amalgamation of several creatures in one. Through her exhibition titled CARE, Patricia introduces her creations to the Indonesian public, sparking sensitivity around the blurred lines between all things natural and artificial. In an interview with Grafis Masa Kini, Patricia discussed her creative process and how her concern for fellow living beings and the environment breathes life into her works.

Patricia Piccinini began her career by studying anatomy, ancient specimens, and pathology in medical museums. With her knowledge of living beings' anatomy, Patricia started developing her works by highlighting the human body in relation to the world around it and the future possibilities where humans and other beings—including artificial ones—can coexist. As human lifestyles and technology evolved, Patricia became interested in raising issues about genetic modification, bioethics, and the potential social impacts of scientific advancements. “When I was interested in how we view a naturally healthy body, I realized that it is innovation and medical technology that now redefine that concept more than anything else,” Patricia shared. She cited an example, “For instance, it is important for people today to have good teeth. However, for two generations ago, it wasn't crucial. Technological changes determine how a healthy body should be.” Patricia aims to voice these bodily concerns amidst the onslaught of new technologies through her works without judgment. “I do not judge how we should have good teeth or a slim body. Through my works, I am not saying this is good or bad. Deep in my heart, I am more concerned with how all this (technology) affects how humans view their bodies and the relationship between human bodies and their environment,” Patricia explained. Stemming from these bodily issues, Patricia “gave birth” to hyper-realistic sculptures known as chimeras, believed to be legendary creatures from Greek mythology that are a combination of three animals.

I am interested in depicting things or creatures that are not the norm and not beautiful. Can we still see beauty in them? Can we still appreciate their intelligence?

Patricia Piccinini, Artist

Beyond the physical body, Patricia examines the human relationship with others and nature by emphasizing gestures of intimacy and the escalating environmental damage in the modern era. These chimera creatures are also created with the idea of breaking down the barriers between humans and animals. “Breaking the boundaries between us (humans) and animals—as part of the natural environment—is important. Boundaries make us think that they (animals) are there, we are here, and we have the power to do whatever we want. The human drive for food leads us to kill them. Boundaries only make us exploit—deplete—the remaining natural resources,” Patricia explained. She believes that one way to dissolve these boundaries is through empathy. By doing so, we will value our relationship with nature beyond just exploiting its resources.


Patricia believes chimeras lack boundaries between humans and animals. Not only do they dissolve boundaries, but these creatures also open possibilities for the future. Patricia emphasized that current technological advancements—genetic engineering—are changing what it means to be human and how we coexist with this sophistication. Showing us a chimera with a kidney growing on its body, Patricia asked: “Could this (chimera) become a machine in the future?” Machines—mechanical devices that seem so futuristic—could one day take the form of imaginary creatures. A chimera with a living kidney on its body could be a solution to problems like diabetes. “Diabetes is a serious issue today. There is a man in America who can survive using a kidney that grew in a pig. The genetic structure of pigs can support human life. Can pigs be called machines ?” According to Patricia, the living body's potential could open up future livelihood possibilities.

We always place the mind above the body. The body is depicted as full of lust, greedy, dirty, while the mind is depicted as clear. Yet, the body can do amazing things and be a source of life, like a woman's body that can bear children.

Patricia Piccinini, Artist

Patricia draws inspiration for her work from her daily life. Among her sculptures and video installations, there is a series of two-dimensional sketches by Patricia Piccinini that show her creative process before being realized in three dimensions. One sketch depicts Patricia's pet cat, her 18-year-old child, and a sea turtle living between Indonesia and Australia threatened by plastic waste. Additionally, visitors can see a sketch of a pelican with a cowboy boot body. “This is a cowboy boot that is also a pelican. This is what a chimera looks like. It does look strange,” Patricia said, guiding us to the three-dimensional piece from the pelican sketch titled Clutch (2022). “But what happens in this work is the story of a single mother. The pelican puts its children inside its body. This work is based on my experience. When you have children, there is a feeling of wanting to put them back into your body to rest, to stop crying. Humans cannot do it, but chimeras can,” Patricia narrated.

Patricia's works not only convey strong ideas but also have the power to channel emotions to anyone who sees them, such as the piece titled Kindred (2018) featuring an Orangutan nurturing her children. The Orangutan's gaze signifies a plea for human compassion—considering their dwindling numbers. “This work can be very sweet, about beauty and sweet things. However, there is much at stake in the world, such as what they (Orangutans) have to face,” Patricia revealed. The work The Couple (2018), adapted to the Indonesian cultural background, also evokes feelings of warmth and intimacy between lovers. For Patricia, the emotions felt through her works stem from bodily experiences. The feelings that emerge are forms of empathy because our bodies are connected to other beings, including imaginary ones. “We are truly connected to other creatures. In Western countries, we are told to be individuals, and being tied to others is seen as negative. However, it is great when we can feel what others feel through bodily experiences.” Patricia then explained that sometimes humans cannot understand the feelings within their bodies. Intellectual emotion comes from the body's response; when something bad or good happens, the body sends signals to the brain, which then processes the emotion. This bodily experience of forming emotions is what drives Patricia to continue creating three-dimensional sculptures.


In creating her fantastical creatures, Patricia combines synthetic materials such as silicone, fiberglass, and ABS plastic. To produce surreal imaginary beings, Patricia also uses organic materials including hair and taxidermy animals for her sculptures. Each exhibited sculpture results from a meticulous team effort to create highly realistic creatures. Patricia stated that her artistic practice is an initial implementation of empathy and care itself. “These works are made with love and care,” said Patricia. She further explained that over months, even touching years, a single sculpture is crafted with love. “(Through the process) visitors will feel that we care deeply about these works. We also care deeply about the visitors, so I present works made wholeheartedly,” Patricia added.

Patricia Piccinini invites us to dissolve the boundaries constructed by society about the body, relationships, and human attachment to natural beings. In Patricia's works, technology, which is always depicted as being in conflict with nature, merges with humans and their environment—forming a harmonious and mutually influencing life. Through her works, Patricia wants to reiterate that breaking boundaries can be achieved if we cultivate empathy and concern for fellow humans and other natural beings in this environment. The CARE exhibition, which focuses on compassion, is open until October 6 at Museum Macan, Jakarta.

About the Author

Alessandra Langit

Alessandra Langit is a writer with seven years of diverse media experience. She loves exploring the quirks of girlhood through her visual art and reposting Kafka’s diary entries at night.