Sidebody Woollhara Gallery

Sidebody Woollhara Gallery

Sidebody : Catalogue Essay

Elizabeth Reidy

Penelope Cain works with landscapes in their widest definition with ongoing reference to the colonized, extracted and transformed landscapes of the Anthropocene and the manifest marks of human presence on the land.

Informed by her research science background, Cain’s art practice is located interstitially between scientific knowledge and unearthing connective untold narratives in the world; using video, installation, objects, flags, text, public participation to tell stories about the lands of the Anthropocene. In this exhibition, Sidebody, Cain’s reimagines the strict delineations of scientific classification as they melt into each other to present an enchanted series of intersectional species. 

In the essay Anthroposcene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin (2015) cultural theorist Donna Harraway reflects on relations in the natural world and urges a rethinking of paradigm divides ‘I think that stretch and recompositing of kin are allowed by the fact that all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense, and it is past time to practice better care of kinds-as-assemblages (not one at a time).’ ‘Kin’, Harraway continues ‘is an assembling sort of word. All critters share a common “flesh”, laterally, semiotically, and genealogically. Ancestors turn out to be very interesting strangers; kin are familiar outside what we thought was family or gens), uncanny, haunting, active’.[i]


[i] Harraway, Donna; Anthroposcene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, published  Environmental Humanities, Vol 6, 2015 pp. 159-165

Cain’s photographic images take Harraway’s concept of assemblages as their aesthetic point of departure. From humans as embodied vessels with plants growing through their skins, to montages of minerals seeping through the stalks of plants reconstituting the damage landscape, and a lyrebird mimicking a human baby cry, Cain collapses scientific classifications into an interrelation and interconnected kinship between living critters.

The title for the exhibition, Sidebody, is taken from a term commonly used in yoga training. Sidebody poses in yoga positions and stretches herald form over function. They are designed to expand breathing, extend the limbs and torso and awaken the body to new possibility. While the mechanical movements of everyday forward and backwards, like running and walking, direct progress and regress, sidebody yoga stretches cultivate a simultaneous embodiment of egress and ingress. Sidebody is an apt metaphor for the title of this exhibition where Cain beckons viewers to open to possibilities presented in the magical grey zones that stretch across the scientific regulatory classifications of animal, vegetable and mineral and in turn, reconsider the potentials of form and function in our understanding and place within world ecology.

Feb 2022

The artist wishes to thank Dr Antony Van der Ent  and Dr Maggie-Anne Harvey, Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland.

For research background see: HERE

Exhibition images: Here