The Foundling

by Patricia Piccinini ( 2008 )

This work come from a conversation I had with a woman during my exhibition at the Frye Museum in Seattle in 2007. She told me she had two daughters aged 11 and 7 who she had adopted from China. Both of these girls had been abandoned by their parents because they had a cleft palettes. Since it is a genetic condition, it is very difficult for girls like this to find husbands, and since the one child per family-policy provides families with only one shot at offspring, such girls are often just dumped and end up in orphanages.

In the US however a cleft palette is not really a big deal. These girls are now living a completely normal life. Their condition has been treated, they can have boyfriends and marry. Nobody makes a fuss about it. So there’s a really big influence of culture on the kind of space an individual is allowed to take. In our culture we give these girls medical treatment to give allow them to join our society. But at the same time medicine is also functioning to repress differences; because we can 'cure' a cleft palette, it becomes a disease rather than just an individuality.

If you look at the Foundling, you see a baby creature in a car safety capsule. It is not exactly an attractive baby, but it has these huge eyes that ask to be loved. It doesn’t really fit in the capsule, and it doesn’t really have a place to belong. I imagine the audience might ask themselves whether they could provide this creature with a loving environment. The deeper ethical question is how do we take responsibility for mistakes we made? And who are we to decide on who or what has a place or not. You can ask yourself that question when we cut down tropical forests destroying the natural habitat of apes or when we introduce transgenic creatures or plants. In the end it is the same question you will have to answer. For me it is not about saving species, it is about individuals.