Penny Byrne (VIC) – 2020 Finalist

#StandwithHongKong, 2019
glass, mild steel, 440 x 310 x 350
Photo: Brenton McGeachie
Gaffer: Tom Rowney
Cold Work: Catherine Newton
Metal Smith: Sean Booth
Created with support provided by Canberra Glass Works, through the Australia Council for the Arts Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy.

Established Artist Category

Through her sculptural practice, Melbourne-based artist Penny Byrne applies her keen sense of politics to interrogate whether individuals have any true agency or ability to determine ‘truth’ when it is has become intertwined with subjectivity and sentimentality and blurred by ‘fake news’ and the effects of mass participation. She is concerned with the state of the world and our place within it. Through her work she asks us to consider where we stand and how we feel, never preaching, she prefers to gently guide us to a deeper understanding of our times. She is not afraid to tackle the big issues head on, often with wry humour and wit, and always with a deeply considered and intelligent compassion. Byrne’s background in ceramics conservation and law informs her practice. Her sculptural works are held in public collections including the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. In 2015 she was exhibited in the Venice Biennale exhibition Glasstress Gotika at Palazzo Franchetti on the Grand Canal.

It’s no mistake that the title of this work starts with a hashtag. #StandwithHongKong has hundreds of thousands of posts on social media and is still trending even today. I made this work during my residency at Canberra Glassworks in November 2019. It is my response to the massive protests that took place in Hong Kong for many months last year, and is my way of showing my support for the protesters. To protect themselves from riot police, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, many protesters resorted to wearing protection that was readily available in hardware stores – yellow construction helmets, goggles and grey gas masks with pink filters. During my residency, I regularly posted progress images on Instagram (@pennb). I received many comments from people in Hong Kong thanking me for making the work. They appreciated that they were not alone, and that the world was watching.”