Dump: new work @ Kudos, July/Aug 2018

Dump: new work @ Kudos, July/Aug 2018


Penelope Cain

24 July- 11 Aug 2018
Kudos Gallery
6 Napier St, Paddington, NSW 2021
Wed-Sat 11-6

Dump is an object-initiated enquiry taking as a starting point the first official Australian colonial currency: Lachlan Macquarie’s holey dollar and dump of 1812.  Dump traces at a molecular level the silver of the holey dollar, through a linked series of anthropogenic landscapes, from Spanish colonial silver mines to Broken Hill and on to the Antarctic.

This new line of enquiry continues ongoing ideas around kulturlandshaft; landscapes of the anthropocene.


Link to catalogue essay by Anneke Jaspers, Curator, Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Penelope Cain Silver Tree Dump
Silver Tree, installation view, 2018

Dump is a pejorative term for a place used to dispose of waste. It is also the low-value central disk of the ‘holey dollar’, the first local official currency of colonial Australia, devised by Lachlan Macquarie. The title of this exhibition takes into consideration both of these meanings in this object-initiated enquiry.

In the face of insufficient British currency in the colony, in 1812 Lachlan Macquarie ordered a consignment of £10,000 worth of Spanish silver dollars, the most widely traded currency at the time. The silver in the coins was mined from Spanish colonial mines in Peru and Mexico, which were heavily worked across two centuries under punishing human and environmental conditions.

Penelope Cain Silver Tree Dump
Silver Tree: detail Digital print on fabric, 3 m x 1.2 m 2018


Some of this silver came from the largest Spanish colonial mine of the time, the Potosi mine in Peru (now Bolivia). Lead released from mining silver at Potosi in the 17th and 18th century has been detected in ice core samples from the Quelccaya ice cap, the largest tropical ice-mass in the world; tracing through mineral contamination the activities of the Spanish colonial empire.


When the Spanish dollars arrived in Sydney, Macquarie had a convict- a former forger- to punch holes in the centre of the coins, creating two pieces- the outer holey dollar and the inner dump- thus doubling the number of available coins. Each coin was allocated a currency value distinct from the value of the silver in the coin. This singularly innovative act of official currency mutilation and economic magical thinking was subsequently recognised by the Macquarie Bank, who adopted the holey dollar as its logo.

penelope cain money tree
Money Tree digital print on linen , acrylic, dyed rooster and pheasant feathers, fabric, trimming, wood, 2.1 x 2.3 m, 2018

Significant silver deposits exist in Australia and one of the earliest mines was at Broken Hill. The silver in the hill was first identified and subsequently mined by a horseback boundary rider, Charles Rasp, in 1883. The rocky hill contained one of the largest lead-silver-zinc mineral lodes in the world. It has been continuously mined since this time, and gave birth to the now international mining giant, BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company), of which Charles Rasp was one of the original syndicate members.

With part of his newfound wealth, Charles Rasp purchased a large decorative silver epergne, which adorned his dining table. This ornate, finely worked colonial table decoration, standing close to 1 m tall, depicts a tall silver tree on rocky outcrop, ornamented with figures of indigenous Australians, native animals and a drover on horseback, encircling the rocky hill- almost as if it was made just for this man. It was made from over 8.5 kg of silver, and the mineral origin of this silver is thought to have been Mexico and Peru.

Penelope Cain
Dust for the Past (II), (detail) digital print on rag on aluminium, with fabric. 90 x 120 2018

Mining activities at Broken Hill released lead dust that spread wind-born across the dry, denuded landscape, contaminating the ground around the town at the base of the hill and mine, and bioacumulating in animals, saltbush, children and even bees. Lead is a slow neurotoxin, difficult to eliminated from the body. Bees in Broken Hill have elevated lead levels in their bodies and primary school aged children in the most heavily contaminated areas of the town have statistically higher blood lead levels and lower NAPLAN scores than their peers.

Lead containing the unique Broken Hill isotopic fingerprint from the earliest mining activities has been found as far away as ice core samples in the Antarctic. Snow containing Broken Hill lead dust fell on the south pole 20 years before Amundsen and Scott battled across that previously untrodden landscape.



Dump considers these molecularly linked, anthropogenic, colonised landscapes, while propositionally speaking to the mystical aura of belief and power around money and land.


Dust for the fenceline (detail) digital print on rag on aluminium, with fabric. 90 x 110 2018




With thanks to the Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum, Broken Hill, for providing access to photograph the Silver Tree.

Acknowledgement is made to the Kaurna people and lands in which the Silver Tree was made and the Wiljakali people and lands in which the Silver Tree is now located.

With thanks to MAAS for providing access to the holey dollars and dumps held in its vast collection.

With thanks to the National Library, for access to the image from ‘The Successful Explorers at the South Pole, 14th December 1911 [picture]/ Olav Bjaaland’.

With many thanks to Dave and Carol Apiarists for their knowledge and access to film.

Many thanks to the dedicated team at the Broken Hill Artist Exchange

One of the holey dollars in the MAAS collection


Widespread pollution of the South American atmosphere predates the industrial revolution by 240 y. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA (2015),  Chiara Ugliettia,1, Paolo Gabriellia,b,2, Colin A. Cookec,3, Paul Vallelongad, and Lonnie G. Thompsona,b

Antarctic-wide array of high-resolution ice core records reveals pervasive lead pollution began in 1889 and persists today. Scientific Reports (2014) J. R. McConnell1, O. J. Maselli1, M. Sigl1, P. Vallelonga2, T. Neumann3, H. Anschu ̈tz4, R. C. Bales5, M. A. J. Curran6, S. B. Das7, R. Edwards8, S. Kipfstuhl9, L. Layman1 & E. R. Thomas10

Identifying Sources of Environmental Contamination in European Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) Using Trace Elements and Lead Isotopic Compositions
Xiaoteng Zhou† , Mark Patrick Taylor*†‡ , Peter J. Davies†‡, and Shiva Prasad§

Fingerprinting sources of environmental contamination using European honeybees

The Association between Environmental Lead Exposure and High School Educational Outcomes in Four Communities in New South Wales, Australia, 2017
Jennifer McCrindle 1,*, Donna Green 2 and Marianne Sullivan 3

Christina Low1, Damian Gore1, Mark Patrick Taylor1& Honway Louie

Antarctic-wide array of high-resolution ice core records reveals pervasive lead pollution began in 1889 and persists today. Joseph R Mcconnell et al. Scientific Reports · July 2014

Mercury pollution from the past mining of gold and silver in the Americas.
Jerome O. Nriagu

The death of honey bees and environmental pollution by pesticides: The honey bees as biological indicators.
Laura Bortolotti et al. Bulletin of Insectology · January 2003

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  1. Pingback: Quelccaya: Think like a mountain – Penelope Cain

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