Through the two main rooms of the gallery and down a foreboding set of stairs into the basement. This is where you’ll need to go to see the most thought provoking exhibition that the Geelong Gallery is currently showing. But it does seem fitting to hide these contentious figurines away. Let’s not talk about the war…
Penny Byrne lives most of her life as a ceramics conservator; restoring glass and ceramic pieces for museums and galleries. Her nonconformity started when she sneakily added a pink bow to a dog figurine that she was restoring without her assessors noticing. Her work is made from those figurines that can’t be restored to their former glory but can with the help of epoxy resin; powder pigments and other vintage accessories have another life. Byrne’s works are now on show as traveling exhibition through Deakin University. The figurines tackle a number of sensitive political subjects including the war on terror, whaling and climate change.
‘Hillary made an ass of herself again’ is the type of piece that you could sneak onto nanna’s mantle and count of her taking a few weeks to notice that one of the girls in the delicate frilly dress actually has a horse’s head. Byrne has stated that although many of her pieces are overtly political in tone she never intended this piece to make a statement, choosing the name Hilary only because it is a common, old fashioned name.
‘Sarah Palin – Soccer Mom’ raises a laugh before the uneasiness of what it represents settles into the mind. A figurine of a proud dear has been riddled with bullet holes. A beaming cheerleader sits astride, wearing a stars and stripes leotard and holding a gun overhead.
‘Swat’ tells the poignant story of the Swat Valley in Pakistan through ceramics with the burka clad babushka dolls descending into invisibility representing the enforcement of Sharia Law and the subsequent disappearance of women from public life.
Penny Byrne – Commentariat is on display at the Geelong Gallery until the 26th of June 2011.
The exhibition will be at the Warrnambool Gallery from the 7th of February 2012 to the 1st of April 2012