Her best quote "I really dont try and gross people out"
Patricia Piccinini's Skywhale
At the Centenary of Canberra celebrations on May 11, Patricia Piccinini unveiled her most ambitious public artwork yet, a 34-metre wide, 23-metre high hot air balloon named Skywhale.
It is not uncommon for large-scale works of public art to make headlines and stir public debate, and Piccinini's Skywhale certainly delivered both these outcomes with its inaugural flight.
Days before the Skywhale took to the sky over the Canberra, news outlets ran reports questioning the sculpture's cost and its relevance to Canberra's history.
On the eve of Skywhale's launch, Robyn Archer, Artistic Director of the Centenary of Canberra, was defending the commission: "it provokes people, it's passionate and people go 'I don't know what it is, therefore, I'm scared of it' or 'what is it', or 'it shouldn't be there', but [...] life is always about the questions not the given answers".
The debate about the value and role of public art is an unavoidable (and necessary) function of art produced for public display. Public art, by its very nature, proposes a radically different encounter for the viewer with the work of art than what occurs in a gallery setting.
Suddenly the private art-viewing experience becomes a public one.
UK-based public art consultant and curator Vivien Lovell, who was the keynote speaker at Canberra Centenary's art symposium Sculpture: Space and Place, says great public art should not always be simply tasteful; it should challenge and provoke us.
"The artists' obligation with public art is to make the best work they can and encourage them to see the world differently," says Lovell.
Certainly the sight of an inflatable hybrid whale has done just that. Such was the interest in Skywhale's 'difference' that it took only a few hours for images of Skywhale to spread around the world via news outlets and social media.
But what often gets lost in the debate is the art work itself.
Patricia Picinnini explained to ABC Arts why she thinks Skywhale will in time charm the public and calm the media storm.
The Skywhale will appear at Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart on June 15-16 and 22-23. And in Melbourne later in the year at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.