‘Profiteer Chic’ @ Artereal Gallery 5-29th July

‘Profiteer Chic’ @ Artereal Gallery 5-29th July

Profiteer Chic

Artereal gallery,  747 Darling Street Rozelle.

Opening 5th July and continuing until 29th July.

This series of works is an extension from a body of work undertaken from 2016 which included Upsell (image:here), which was included in View @ Artereal Gallery, curated by Barbara Dowse and acquired by Artbank, and Yield (Proposition for a Panorama Towards the Northern Top) (image:here) a finalist in the Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of NSW, and Peak, (image:here) a current finalist in the Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award, until mid July.

Profiteer Chic takes as its starting point a single small painting by a nineteenth century, Sydney based former-convict and amateur artist, George Peacock. The painting looks along Sydney Harbour from Garden Island, towards the emerging city. The artist was a middleclass English convict; a lawyer transported for the white collar crime of document forgery, which he undertook to fund the appearance of success in his community[1]. The contemporary manifestations of the themes contained within this small painting are reflected in all the works in the show.

Profiteer Chic, installation view, Artereal gallery, Sydney, 2017

While undertaking initial research for Profiteer Chic, I was drawn to this small painting because it appeared to bracket the marks of colonialism, economy and trade, between the ships, soldiers and emerging city of Sydney. This single image offered potential to negotiate  thoughts on the contemporary manifestations of these concerns, through the history of Australian colonisation. This path also allowed potential to integrate my ongoing interest in notions of the landscape sublime/ anti-sublime, alongside an increasing interest in the politics of urban space.

I was especially interested in mapping the territory between historic colonialism, as seen in the British ‘settlement’ of Australia, with it’s hierarchies of power, control of trade, assumptions of ownership and abuse of authority, to contemporary acts of economic colonialism undertaken by global corporations, in particular those operating within Australia. 

The term ‘extractive economies’ was brought to light by Acemoglu and Robinson (2)  in describing the national economies that base their productivity on non-renewable resources (such as oil and gas), and where there is a tendency for consolidation of the obtained income into the hands of the few rather than redistributed for national good.

penelope Cain Amazon
The day that Amazon Came to Town, 2017. PCV shape, sequins, mega-glitter. 32 x 9 cm

In my research I wanted to test the notion that extractive economics is in fact another version of colonialism. In this I drew on imagery such as deep-sea oil rigs, monocle telescopes and oval portrait frames. The title of the exhibition is a tongue-in-cheek riff on this line. That there is a chic to making profit goes without saying in the contemporary economic environment, yet I’m interested in the slight tarnish to the word ‘chic’ , and tried to play this up with the use of mini-discoballs, glass beads and sequins.

penelope cain profiteer chic
Profiteer Chic 2017. UV cured digital print on linen, glass beads. 93 x 130 cm

I see this body of work partly as a process of mapping of the terrain I’ve described above, and partly as a type of testing of the proposition. It is equally, though, a small act of resistance. I am deeply concerned by the environmental and economic vandalism surrounding the Adarni mine development, the ease with which corporations such as BHP, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell avoid paying tax and royalties for oil, gas and mineral extraction in Australia.

penelope cain pump it up
Pump it up and just keep dancing, 2017 uv cured digital print on acrylic and linen, fibreglass mesh, dyed rooster feathers, thread, pencil. 130 x 133 cm


Pump It Up (Detail)

In Pump It Up And Just Keep Dancing two oil rigs are overlaid into a small fragment of Peacock’s scene of Sydney Harbour. They are intentionally shaped to reference the sails of the trade ships in the harbour. I keep returning to fibreglass mesh as a material because of its shadowy present/ absent effect- it looks like a negative or after-image, yet is so materially present on top of the linen. The two figures on the left side have been reworked from the original painting so that they appear to be looking at the rigs.

Profiteer Chic (detail) UV cured digital print on linen, glass beads.

In Profiteer Chic I used a slice from Peacocks work to create an even tighter view along the harbour, adding more ships, and created a circular hole in the middle of the canvas, with a second layer glued underneath. I wanted to create an idea of looking through a telescope, much like the view from the captain’s brig. I was striving to refer to notions of power of land ownership implicit through the history of European landscape art. The text “profiteer chic’ is covered in glass beads so it glistens on top of the image.

penelope cain
Ballsy (from the Anatomy of Power series) , 2017. Disco balls, nylon netting, telescope, microbeads, ribbon. Approx 40 x 9 x 8 cm. Installation view.

The telescope and the act of power through the gaze is again drawn on in #45 (from the Anatomy of Power series), where a childrens telescope, covered in glittery microbeads is paired with net-covered discoballs to look a little bit like male genitalia. In using the microbeads I was hoping for a material effect that looked bit like crusted sand or even slightly crusty skin cells. The title refers obliquely to Donald Trump (president #45), the ultimate profiteer.

Business As Usual 2017. UV cured digital print on linen, glass beads. Triptych installation view



For the last 2-3 years I have been using the technique of referencing, reflecting and collaging historic landscapes combined with flyscreen mesh and feathers to navigate my interest in the built urban landscape, notions of ‘the city’ and the nodes of economic and spatial power that occur in the city and urban environment (ie the politics of urban space). I am also interested in notions of the landscape sublime, and how it permits the potential for the anti-sublime. In this I reference Robert Smithson and his ‘Tour of the Monuments of Passiac’.

Through all my work this year I have become increasingly interested in the propositional performability of commerce within the city, and its gendered nuances. I hope to pursue this further in new research.


Geroge Peacock, Sydney From Garden Island, 1846, State Library NSW
 [1] G.E. Peacock, Trove Database, National Library of Australia http://trove.nla.gov.au/people/615693
[2] “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.