Travel News

How I travel: Patricia Piccinini

The artist travels to show her work, but goes home to make it. We chat to her about her fondest travel memories and what it's like to travel for work with your family.
Artist Patricia Piccinini discusses how she likes to travel and what role it plays in her creating new work

Patricia Piccinini

Phoebe Powell

Just back from: Stradbroke Island, where we soaked up the old-school Australian beach-holiday atmosphere in preparation for my exhibition at GOMA.

Next up: Cairns, where I’m researching a show, and then Vancouver, where I’m working on an exhibition in an old downtown hotel called Hotel Patricia (true!). I’m taking over a bunch of rooms for a series of installations.

I was born in Sierra Leone, but my parents went back to my father’s home village in Italy when I was two. We then migrated to Australia when I was seven, in 1972. We travelled on one of the last “migrant boats”, and I still remember the journey. That’s left me with a slightly paradoxical attitude to travel: it’s very much part of my life, but I also value my time at home.

I’d much rather be in an apartment above a market than a hotel with room service. Food is important to me, and I like to maintain my eating habits when I’m away, which means cooking with fresh produce.

I always travel with a good cooking knife, my favourite green tea and a tea strainer. If you have a decent knife you can work around whatever crappy pots and pans you end up with, and if you have a strainer you can make decent tea in anything.

I pretty much only travel for work, but what I get to do is wonderful. Going to the same museum every day to install an exhibition gives you a sense of being part of the natural rhythm of a place. I’m rarely able to think of new work when I’m on the road, however. I travel around to show work, but I have to go home to make it.

I drove from New Orleans to Niagara Falls with my husband, Peter Hennessey, in the mid-1990s. I was overwhelmed by the huge trucks that roared past. They made me think of whales. One night watching TV in a Motel 6 in Tennessee we saw a whale giving birth, and it led me to wonder where the trucks’ babies were. When I got home I made the work Truck Babies, the first of a series of works conflating the mechanical world with the natural one.

I love travelling with my family. Peter and I have been living and working together for 30 years, and we have Hector, 13, and Roxy, 11, who have travelled with us since they were born. My ideal trip takes us somewhere interesting and lets us settle in for a decent period. We get to know the neighbourhood, walk around and find the best ice-cream and markets and museums.

I had an exhibition in Lima some years ago, and our friends at the gallery organised a trip for us to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Obviously seeing the Andes and the incredible Incan ruins was amazing, but just as wonderful was seeing how educated but not rich people live in a city like Lima. We’d go to cantinas with no menus that were full of working people at lunch, and even though we stood out like the gringos we were, everyone made us feel welcome. It was amazing and humbling to see how much people did with so few resources.

While travel broadens your experience, it doesn’t necessarily broaden your horizons. You bring a lot of your home with you when you travel, which is okay as long as you respect the fact you’re bringing it into somebody else’s home.

The artist’s first major solo retrospective, Patricia Piccinini: Curious Affection, is showing at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art until 5 August.

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