Creative Accounting curated by Holly Williams

I have 3 works in ‘Creative Accounting’ curated by Holly Williams.

Asking a very current curatorial question, ‘Creative Accounting’ explores ideas around money, economic systems, perceived value and the aesthetics of currency, at a time when money is becoming increasingly abstract. Currently open at Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, until 10th July, the exhibition will tour to six venues across Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.

Artists include: Fiona Hall, David Shapiro, Conrad Bakker, Ian Burns, Penelope Cain, Joachim Froese, Melanie Gilligan, Andrew Hurle, Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre, Daniel McKewen, Christine McMillan, Kenzee Patterson, Ryan Presley, David Shapiro and Abdullah M.I. Syed, Jess Olivieri & Haley Forward with the Parachutes for Ladies.


Penelope Cain growth at all costs

Growth at all Costs 2015/2016 fibreglass mesh, dyed feathers, sequins, rubber, thread, pins each approx 100 x 130 cm

Growth at all Costs is a two-part quasi- casting or manifestion, a tongue in cheek attempt at dark magic action towards the economy. Thinking about regalia, banners, crests, religion, military and governance, these wall works are formed from shapes of new buildings, boats, trucks and other evident forms of economic activity.  The work follows a half-formed question around the performability of commerce.


penelope cain growth at all costs

Installation view, Albury regional gallery, 2017


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‘Trickle Down’, 2016, installation view, digital print on Phototex, flyscreen mesh, feathers, rubber, fabric, sequins.

Trickle Down uses as a pivot point a 19th century lithograph by Eugene von Guerard of the Weatherboard Falls, Blue Mountains, to reflect on contemporary urban economic principles and truisms.The theory of trickle down economics was a linchpin of Reganomics and Thatcher era policies, positing that tax breaks to the wealthy will be spent, ultimately trickling down to the poor, instead of giving the tax breaks directly to the most needy. In this work I have collaged images of urban productivity- apartments, cranes and traffic-jammed cars over von Guerard’s sublime Blue Mountains landscape. Von Guerard’s figure in the lower right corner (channelling Casper David Frederick’s male observer to the natural sublime), is backed by 3 Australian flags, sourced from Tony Abbott’s media appearances.

The work incorporates a series fo ongoing themes that I am interested in- the gendered performance of capitalism, post-collonial notions of land and land ownership, and propositionally ascribing elements of the sharmanic and dark magic to the apparently rational ‘economy’.

In this wider line of enquiry I have taken as a starting point a text by (American land artist) Robert Smithson, from his project, “The Monuments of Passaic” (1967), in which he identified the decaying ‘ruins in reverse’ and ‘zero panoramas’, in describing the unromantic, anti-sublime, urban, industrial service-town near New York. I am repeatedly drawn to Smithson’s critical conflation of the urban landscape with the outcome of macroeconomic actions, the romantic notion of the sublime and the ruin, and a glitching of the expected linearity of time. In this Smithson offers a propositional shattering of our rational expectations of urban landscape and the economy.

(Smithson’s essay here…)


trickle down detail smaller

Trickle Down detail of wall installation, 2016.

View @ Artereal Gallery, Sydney. 3-27th Feb 2016.



3 – 27 FEBRUARY 2016

Artereal Gallery,

747 Darling Street, Rozelle.


View is a show that loosely looks at contemporary takes on landscape, curated by Barbara Dowse, with catalogue essay: here.

I have 3 works in this show that are part of a new line of enquiry.

Operating within my ongoing broad interest in the city, urban landscape and space/place, these works continue from recent works included in the Fishers Ghost Award (Dec 2015) and the Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award (Jul 2015).

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Cut-Backs, gallery view. Flyscreen mesh, feathers, beads, acrylic paint, UV cured digital print on linen

In these new works I have used as a starting point components of a lithograph by 19th century Australian artist, Eugene Von Guerard, titled Cabbage tree forest, American Creek, New South Wales (1866 – 68). The image depicts the temperate Illawarra rainforest, just off the sandstone escarpment south of Sydney at Figtree, now a northern suburb of industrial Woolongong. Two woodcutters work in the foreground, dwarfed by the verdant, vine-strewn cabbage tree palms, figs and towering eucalypts. The panoramic view itself was made possible by the felling of a number of unseen trees in the foreground.

The lithograph is part of a book of panoramic landscapes titled ‘Eugene von Guerard’s Australian landscapes’. The book provides picturesque views for consumption by the middleclasses of Australia and England, but also offers insight into how the landscape was experienced and understood by the late-colonial white culture at the time. Von Guerard’s detailed yet romantic- sublime landscapes frequently feature a human figure, dwarfed by the trees, mountains and plains of the Australian landscape.

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Profit-Cut (detail)

In using this work as a point of response, I wanted to develop further an ongoing enquiry loosely tying together thoughts around the contemporary urban landscape, the troubled Australian history of colonisation, land ownership, power and the economy, and how this could possibly be manifested in the city; the performance of the urban economy.


Re-growth, gallery view. Flyscreen mesh, beads, acrylic paint, UV cured digital print on linen Image: Zan Wimberley

This wider line of research has been informed by the American artist, Robert Smithson’s ‘ruins in reverse’ and ‘zero panoramas’, from his Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, and an attempt to articulate the Euro-centric historic notions of the sublime with Smithson’s bleak urban pre-ruin. In addition I have a notion that the economy of the city may not be not the rational, transparent machine it presents, but that it could also be a propositional manifestation of white people’s Dark magic.

Power, Shamanism and Victorian mourning jewellery feed into the final works, where black fibreglass mesh and white cutaway shapes ghost the forms of multi-storey apartment blocks – like hauntings and manifestations from the future in the sublime, yet already ruptured, Australian bush.


Up-Sell, gallery view. (this work has entered the Artbank Collection, purchased 2016)




Finalist in Fishers Ghost Award and Grace Cossington Smith Award, Nov/Dec. 2015

Trickle Down is a finalist in the Fishers Ghost Open award at Campbelltown Art Gallery, opening Friday 6th Nov.

This large flyscreen mesh work on digital print is an extension of the line of enquiry I have been pursuing, using propositional notions of the contemporary urban sublime as a pivot point for considerations of the history of landscape, land ownership and power in the city.

The Romantic notion of the Sublime within art history was in part a reaction to industrialisation and a loosening of the ties of religion and notions of humanism within the wider world. Nature was rediscovered as larger, wilder and more spiritually profound than previously noticed. And within this broader timeframe, in a safer Europe, wealthier Europeans travelled, and the idea of the panorama was developed in response, commodifying the experience of nature (to souvenir the views seen and experiences had, or to view for the first time, for those that could not afford to travel).

In this wider line of enquiry I have taken as a starting point a text by (American land artist) Robert Smithson, from his project, “The Monuments of Passaic” (1967), in which he identified the decaying ‘ruins in reverse’ and ‘zero panoramas’, in describing the unromantic, anti-sublime, urban, industrial service-town near New York. I am repeatedly drawn to Smithson’s critical conflation of the urban landscape with the outcome of macroeconomic actions, the romantic notion of the sublime and the ruin, and a glitching of the expected linearity of time. In this Smithson offers a propositional shattering of our rational expectations of urban landscape and the economy.

(Smithson’s essay here…)

In this current series I have been riffing off Australian landscape paintings, and in particular a series of paintings and prints by Eugene von Gerard, who travelled widely in Australia and painted his view of the Australian landscape through a late-colonial frame of reference. His sublime, wide landscapes, occasionally peopled with white settlers or Aboriginal locals stretches out beyond their frames.

I have been reviewing and repurposing these works to open a conversation about out post-colonial understanding of landscape and the urban, including questions about the power of land ownership, and power more generally within the cityscapes that we build and inhabit. Following thoughts initiated in Growth at all Costs! earlier this year I am interested in the performance of power and capital and how Capitalism is performed within the City. With this in mind I was drawn to von Gerard’s human figures within his landscapes, as they frequently gesture in a mode of optimistic ownership towards the land stretching out in front of them.


In Trickle Down, Tony Abbot’s flags stand behind the gesturing climber, as a new building development (drawn from images from the current Barangaroo office development) is envisaged on the Waterboard Falls in the Blue Mountains.

The economic theory of ‘trickle down’, championed by economic drys such as  Ronald Regan and friends, argues that giving tax breaks to the super wealthy will allow increased luxury spending, tricking down to poorer people thereby aiding the economy. It seemed a wholly appropriate title for this work.

The feathers and rubber are pure shaman. The economy of the city manifested as white people’s Dark magic. (With assisted visual reference from Victoriana and women’s mourning jewellery.)

trickle down 2 detail

Below: Installation view at Campbelltown regional gallery for the Fishers Ghost Prize

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Two related works also showing as finalists in the Grace Cossington Smith award, Grace Cossington Smith Gallery, Abbotsleigh School.

Selected as one of 15 finalists from over 300 entries, the two chosen works are a continuation of the above line of enquiry.

Panorama From The Forest to the Mountain (3 Wise Men Look Over the Crown Casino Building Site) (2015) builds a flyscreen mesh mountain out of the shapes of buildings, scaffolding and cranes. Overlooking this mountain are the three figures of white men gesturing towards the mountain. The figures were harvested from 18th-19th century landscape paintings-  the explorer Joseph Banks, Eugene von Guerard and  the grazier Leigh Sadleir Falkiner.


Growth Solution #1 Sydney, 2015

This work is made from a map of Sydney and a mirrored map, placed side by side. Black sequins cover all areas on which there are buildings and parks, open lands and other un-developed areas have been cut away, untethering the city from its land. The resultant form is a lace like structure, that almost looks like an outcome of medical imaging, offering an alternative perspective on the city.

sydney growth solution1

growth solution#1_detail

Growth at all Costs! A-M Gallery

Growth at all Costs! is a solo show of new work at A-M Gallery, Wilson St, Newtown.

12-30th May, 2015

This current line of enquiry was triggered by cutting out maps of cities. Growth Solution #1: Sydney is a mapping of the form of the built city through the location of flat black sequins, and excising the built city out and away from its territory. This process opened questions about the economics of land in ‘the city’ and broader questions about how the economy is presented and performed in the city; a functional economic and trade nexus.

That there is a performative element to economics is a proposition that is played out through an intentional collision of apparently disparate elements- the performative aspects of colonial landscape painting, Victorian mourning jewellery and tribal religious regalia.

The works pay out on economic phrases and terms heard and repeated to the point of mantra, such as that in the show’s title- ‘growth at all costs’. These are stretched and played to a point of surreality through the collaged motifs of shields, plaques and monuments, denoting a type of ceremonial intensity, yet these propositional relics are rendered in intentionally perverse materials such as visually fugitive flyscreen mesh and intensely solid industrial rubber sheeting, and decorated with lavish feathers and almost burlesque sequins.

growth solution#1

Growth Solution #2: Sydney. Sequins, fabric-backed map.


growth solution#1_detailThe works link materially and thematically to recent previous work- in the Paramor Art+ Innovation Award and the Blake Prize earlier this year, as well as MFA graduation work, mid 2014.


Flyscreen mesh provides a sense of the provisional, elusive; the retinal after-image. The feathers and sequins are both a nod to the burlesque, and to the intensity of decoration found in religious relics and costumes.

In an interesting synchronicity, this exhibition opened on the same evening as the 2015 federal budget release. Indeed.


Costs : detail feathers, flyscreen mesh, sequins. 2015

three wise men_smaller

Growth Solution: The Three Wise Men Look Over the Crown Casino Building Site. flyscreen mesh, tape, rubber, digital print on silk, sequins. 201

capital back_smaller

Capital (back of work), installation view in gallery window. Rubber, feathers, netting. 32 cm (w) x 120 cm (h), 20

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Loss : installation view. Rubber, feathers, nylon, mesh, thread. 60 cm (w) x 128 cm (h), 2015

Selected finalist in the Paramor art prize, Jan- March 2015

Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain has been selected as a finalist in the Paramor Prize, Casula Powerhouse, Sydney.

The PARAMOR PRIZE: ART + INNOVATION encourages new ways of seeing, experiencing and interpreting the world around us. 40 finalists were selected, including:

Marian Abboud, Clark Beaumont , Damien Butler, Penelope Cain , Carla Cescon, Gary Deirmendjian, Jacquelene Drinkall, Kath Fries, Sarah Goffman, Tim Gregory, Yvette Hamilton, Ash Keating, Karena Keys, Owen Leong. Leon Lester, Liana Lewis, Louise Paramor, Katy B Plummer, Diego Ramirez, Merri Randell, Erica Seccombe, Mimi Tong, Undrawing the Line (Zanny Begg), Julie Williams, Gabriella and Brent Wilson, Jason Wing.

Opening Saturday, 31st Jan, and continues 31 January – 15 March 2015

Casula Powerhouse,

1 Powerhouse Road, Casula NSW 2170

panorama from the base of iron mountain

Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain (detail) 2015


In this current line of enquiry I am looking for new ways to read, experience and depict the urban landscape, taking as a starting point of the art historical reading of the term (landscape).

I have been examining this, using as a starting point two ‘Romantic’ notions: the natural sublime and the ruin. In this I have been experimenting with trying to find the point of articulation between the sublime, nature and the built, to examine how the historical relationship between these is in flux in the contemporary urban landscape.

To undertake this body of work I have intentionally collapsed facets from the modern commercial city with ideals of their cultural opposite of ‘nature’ or ‘sublime’, to mark out the terrain between these two social constructs. I have proposed a series of (small-time) questions about ‘the city’, beauty in the landscape (two equally contested terms), and consumption, in what ever format these are experienced.

In this line of enquiry I have been using a novel combination of media- flyscreen mesh, drawing, spray paint and video- and experimenting with wall drawing and the idea of making expanded drawings.

This work, Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain, is one outcome from this line of enquiry. Taking as a starting point two images: Caspar David Friedrich’s Sea of Ice and Joseph Michael Gandy’s Ruin of the Bank of London , the work evolved from a previous installation for my MFA graduate exhibition in 2014.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_sea of ice

Caspar David Friedrich, Sea of Ice, 1824












This in-progress experimental outcome uses imagery referencing the urban ruin and the edges of the city to build a traditionally panoramic mountain silhouette. The forms of a small group of urbexing boys are partially concealed within the propositional / constructed ruin, along with references of graffiti and urban re-appropriation. Birds and wild dogs circle and fight around the ruined structures, much as they always will, re-taking the unattended edges of the city.


My aim was to generate a propositional point of ruin- mediating a partial line of redemption between the real, the dystopian (Robert Smithson’s ‘zero panoramas’, and ‘ruins in reverse’ from his 1967 Tour of Passic New Jersey) and the poetic temporal rupture described by Walter Benjamin.


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Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain (detail) 2015



Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain (installation image) flyscreen mesh, plastic, tape, spray paint, video.

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Installation view on opening night


The Blake Prize and other updates: Dec 2014

war + games has been selected as a finalist in 2014 The Blake Prize; one of 50 finalists, shortlisted  from over 1000 entries. Im delighted to be part of this exhibition, with such an amazing list of artists…

This work is an expanded wall drawing, made from flyscreen mesh, sequins, pins and wall vinyl, and was made in response to the events in Palestine and in Syria earlier this year.

The injury and death of children in adult-manifested war zones has become increasingly present in our world. In zones of conflicting religious, political and social territories the uniting hope for humanity rests with children and their future. This work reflects a humanist-based propositional search for hope and balance in the warring present.

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WAR+GAMES, installation view, UNSW Galleries, COFA, Sydney.

war+games 2

Detail: Flyscreen mesh, fabric, sequins, pins, wall vinyl. 2.3 x 2.5 m












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WAR+GAMES detail













































I also have a related wall drawing in Beastly @ Delmar Gallery, Ashfield, curated by Catherine Benz.

This work, Panorama from the edge of the city, is part of an ongoing exploration of the medium of flyscreen mesh, and of notions of ruin and the sublime. Both ideas rest in the Romantic, and seem to come out of a porosity or glitch in the narrative of the ordinary urban space and place.

Penelope Cain, Panorama from the edge of the city: lane ways and alleys

Penelope Cain, Panorama from the edge of the city: lane ways and alleys











Superdry and other panoramas @ MOP Gallery, 23 July- 17 Aug

Upcoming exhibition: July-Aug 2014

Suerpdry and Other Panoramas,
New large scale drawings

MOP Gallery,
2 / 39 Abercrombie St Chippendale,
23 July- 17 August


See the installation at MOP Gallery here:

mop install 1_web

Installation view, MOP Projects


Panorama at the Base of Cherry Blossom Mountain: video projection

In 1967, the land artist, Robert Smithson, undertook a ‘tour’ of Passic, New Jersey, where he documented the hulks of steel bridges, pumping plants and rusting water pipes sitting squatly on the land. He darkly called the views he documented ‘zero panoramas’, and ‘ruins in reverse’.

Superdry and other panoramas is not this. It does, however, search for a line of partial redemption between Smithson’s ‘ruins in reverse’ and the sites, views and panoramas that surround us in the city, the urban and beyond.

Through this series of large scale drawings and video projections Penelope Cain marks out lines of enquiry into the articulation between sublime, nature and the built, proposing a series of open ended questions about ‘the city’, beauty in the landscape and consumption, in what ever format these are experienced.

In these works Cain uses imagery sourced from her practice of walking around the city and beyond. She cuts lines through the meticulously drawn images to collide two spatial planes- one drawn on the paper and the other cut lines through the paper. The two spaces fight for primacy at the surface of the paper, creating a type of spatial glitch or rupture. In collapsing facets from the modern commercial city into panoramas of their cultural opposite of ‘nature’ or ‘sublime’, Cain marks out the terrain between these two constructs and the articulation between them.

This series of work commenced with the drawing Surface Tension, which was a finalist in the Dobell Drawing Prize, 2012, Art Gallery of NSW, and Ive been working on the series on and off since then.

In Superdry and other panoramas

 Superdry, 2014. Pencil, cut line on rag paper, 128x 95 cm


1_surface tension_2012

topshot 1 penelope cain

Sale Topshop, 2014, archival digital print on rag, cut paper marks. 112 x 75cm













Video link:   Panorama at the base of cherry blossom mountain

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Void Fraction at SCA Graduate Gallery, July 2014

Loosely titled Void Fraction (which is a mathematical measure of the porosity of a material), this work is the result of an MFA research into ‘the city’ to develop an understanding of urban space and place, and a proposition for spatial glitches and porosities in the built city environment.

This multi-part work contains a video projection, a large wall installation of flyscreen mesh, building plastic and spray paint and a triptych of photographs, generating a node of investigation around hypothetical porosities of the wild within the city.


View the video: Void Fraction video documentation



void fraction with figure

Void Fraction installation view, 2014. 12 m x 3 m

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The nightgarden series, 2 of 4