Art installation explores curious and complex relationship between humans and animals

Hyperrealist installation Curious Imaginings is on display in a wing of the 105-year-old Patricia Hotel in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

'It’s not about being right or wrong or good or bad even. It’s about empathizing,' says artist

Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's work is on display at Vancouver's Patricia Hotel. 0:46

Hyperrealist installation Curious Imaginings is on display in a wing of the 105-year-old Patricia Hotel in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood.

Part of the Vancouver Biennale, some of the shocking yet fascinating sculptures of hybrid animals by Australian artist Patricia Piccinini include a humanoid beaver, a half-human/half-orangutan mother and a family of humanesque pigs.

Piccinini says the sculptures say a lot about people's relationships to animals.

"I think they're asking some very important questions like, what is our relationship to the nature that we're changing around us?" Piccinini told CBC's Margaret Gallagher.

Patricia Piccinini's sculpture, Welcome Guest, at the Patricia Hotel. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Technology, location, curiosity

Last year, scientists announced they had created a human-pig hybrid. The hybrid was able to grow to the fetus stage. With the installation, Piccinini hypothesizes what will happen between humans and animals if this technology continues. 

"This [installation] asks, when we do this, what will our relationship be with [the being]? Will we love this creature? Will we use it as a resource? Will we create it just for our convenience or for its own sake?"

Patricia Piccinini's sculpture, Young Family, in one of the Patricia Hotel's rooms. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

The Patricia Hotel venue, located in a constantly changing part of Vancouver, provides themes of transience and existence on the fringes of society, says Piccinini. 

The sculptures are both repelling and enticing at the same time, she says. Kindred, the sculpture of a half-human/half-orangutan mother, is displayed in a way that shows she is protective of her children, as well as vulnerable.

"You're brought in because you're curious. And you kind of empathize with what she's going through. She's a mother and she's looking after her children … At the same time, you can see that she is different from us. She's a monster. She not natural and she's artificial." 

Patricia Piccinini's sculpture, Teenage Metamorphosis, can be seen on display at the Patricia Hotel until Dec. 15. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Piccinini says that this push-and-pull dynamic is all part of the Curious Imaginings viewing experience.

"In the end, it's not about being right or wrong or good or bad even. It's about empathizing. Thinking about what it would be like to be her."

Curious Imaginings is on display at the Patricia Hotel until Dec.15.

Listen to Margaret Gallagher's interview with artist Patricia Piccinini here:

With files from On the Coast, Margaret Gallagher and Richard Theriault.