Penny Byrne explores the refugee crisis in #EuropaEuropa
Michael Reid, Berlin
6 October – 4 November 2017
In her first European solo show, Australian artist and ceramist Penny Byrne presents #EuropaEuropa, an installation work at the Michael Reid Gallery in Berlin.
Seeking to highlight the perilous journey undertaken by large numbers of migrants across Europe, #EuropaEuropa aims to recreate the sheer quantity and desperation of those risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean.
Adrift in an assortment of porcelain antique household serving plates, gravy boats, cups, and bowls, (delicate vessels that reflect the determination to find any means necessary to cross seas), the figures are stranded around the gallery in various states of safety. The crudely constructed bright orange rings that hang around the necks of the figurines are clumsily constructed, a statement from Byrne on the worrying trend of refugees being given fake or faulty lifejackets. A number of solo figurines, often without floatation aids, lay separated from the main groups across the gallery floor and attached to nails in the walls; a tribute to those left behind and those who have become victims of such a perilous journey.
Most of the figurines have been donated by Penny’s social media followers. Several months ago she created “The Great Blue and White Figurine Hunt of 2017” on social media. She has now had over 80 figurines donated from keen followers, a reflection on the power of what can be achieved in joining together to create something better.
Byrne says “I don’t seek to promote any particular political stance of the crisis. I just believe it’s important that we continue to bring to light such tragic situations, to highlight the plight of those who have to resort to such drastic measures, so that as a society, we can come together in finding solutions.”
As an established ceramics conservator, Penny Byrne is an expert in working with porcelain, a medium which she feels holds an unmistakably kitsch aesthetic. In using vintage figures to create such a politically charged and engaging piece, Byrne’s work begins to play with notions of history and memory, key ideas that emanate from #EuropaEuropa which bring to light how pressing this matter really is.
Penny Byrne’s sculptural works are politically charged, highly engaging and often disarmingly humorous. Using materials such as vintage porcelain figurines and found objects, bronze and glass, Byrne’s work presents an ongoing inquiry into popular culture and international politics. Her background in ceramics conservation and the law informs her practice.
Byrne’s ability to work across varying mediums exemplifies how she challenges the boundaries and assumptions around her art.
6th October – 4th November 2017
Michael Reid Berlin
Ackerstraße163, D-10115 , Berlin, Germany
Byrne has received, and been shortlisted for, numerous Australian and international awards for her work, including winning The Young Masters Ceramics Award in 2014. Her work is shown internationally and is held in many important Australian collections and private collections across the world. She has exhibited in numerous international group shows, and has had solo shows in Australia and Hong Kong. In 2015 Byrne exhibited in the Venice Biennale exhibition Glasstress Gotika at Palazzo Franchetti .#EuropaEuropa is her first solo show in Europe. Born in Mildura in regional Australia in 1965, Byrne now lives and works in Melbourne.
Michael Reid Berlin
After staging the successful “Murr-ma: Uncovering Aboriginal & Australian Contemporary Art” exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnoff and an exhibition of contemporary Australian works at the Preview Berlin Art Fair, Reid established a permanent exhibition space in Europe for contemporary Australian artists. Michael Reid Berlin opened in 2012 at Ackerstrasse 163, Berlin. [i] Located in the creatively vibrant Mitte neighbourhood, the gallery space is on the ground floor of a classic Berlin-style apartment building of the 1870s. Hosting eight exhibitions a year, the gallery is recognised as a gateway to European collectors and museums for emerging and established contemporary Australian artists[ii]. It has led to collaborations in art fairs and art projects across Germany, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia[iii].
Artists represented have included Jason Benjamin, Stephen Bush, Peter Churcher, Pippin Drysdale, Leah Emery, Linde Ivimey, Joseph Marr, Michael Peck, Stephen Bush, Wendy Sharpe, George Tjungurrayi, Johnny Tjupurrrula and Ronnie Tjampitjinpa.
[i] Nicholas Forrest, “Michael Reid to bridge cultural divide with Berlin Gallery”, BlouinArtinfo, 03/01/13
[ii] Interview of Michael Cathcart, “From Berlin, the ancient world to contemporary techno”, ABC Radio National, 21/01/14
[iii] Jeremy Eccles, “Danie Mellor’s Year”, Aboriginal Art Directory, 09/05/14
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