Staging Humanimality: Patricia Piccinini and a Genealogy of Species Intermingling
Written by Sara E. S. Orning, in Animalities: Literary and Cultural Studies Beyond the Human (ed. Michael Lundblad)
Orning raises questions about the provocative work of Patricia Piccinini, a contemporary sculptor and artist. Piccinini’s work often stages encounters between what look like human figures and what look like hybrid creatures with both human and nonhuman characteristics. Orning’s focus in these “humanimal” encounters is on the potential they hold for questioning easy distinctions between “the human” and “the animal”, while also drawing attention to the fact that human beings today can already be seen as hybrid, whether we have tissues or organs implanted from nonhuman beings or we recognize that human bodies are made up of cells and micro-organisms that are not necessarily human. Orning connects the uneasiness associated with unsettling what it means to be human to a longer genealogy of putting “monstrous” or “freakish” bodies on display, whether in the form of humans with animal-like features, or animals with human features, particularly in nineteenth-century circus sideshows. But the “species intermingling” that is staged by Piccinini, according to Orning, holds more potential for ethical engagement with “others” of various kinds or species than earlier settings such as freak shows.