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PROJECTS 2008-12

Introduction This document contains a non-exhaustive overview of the past four years of my practice with some commentary on each project. The commentary is designed to give basic insight into each work and does not go into more complicated theory pertaining to each. All following images are my own and made by me, unless where speciied. In 2007 I made my rst ‘contemporary’ work. It was a video I called “The Unreachable Treat” which was followed by “The Spoiled Dream” (left). These works exhibit a general desire to transcend the strange and futile limitations imposed on us by the world at large. Many of my projects extend from this point. They question what life is all about, especially for a young person who experiences most of the world through a screen, and spends most of his life online. At times my investigations are serious and seek optimistic solutions, and at other times they are subversive or tongue-in-cheek. Whatever way I approach my subject matter and theory, it is all part of the experience of ‘‘guring out’ through creative practice. By pushing things one way or the other, I nd solutions. By acknowledging an approach or framing an aspect in a particular way, one will always inevitably raise the question of its alternative.

Tom Penney

Navel Gazing 2007-08 “Navel Gazing” was about investigating the paradoxical relationship of spirituality broadcast through a machine. It showcased video work I had produced at the end of 2007 and throughout 2008. I used black piping and synthetic plastic materials to represent artiicial spiritual enquiry. I also used the symbolism of a ‘zen like’ black circle: The circle might represent universality, but in its at black form it is confusing. Is it an eternal circle or a shallow void? What does it mean when a computer is able to reproduce such simple, reduced images? Are they as contemplative as this form?

Kazimir Malevich’s painting of a black circle (left) from 1915 represents spiritual enquiry in the early 20th century. My own video “Summoning the Black Circle” (right) brings this symbol to life and asks how it applies today. My family performed as a ‘cult’ for the camera.

My video “Navel Gazing” (above) depcits me weaving a black pipe in and out of my navel. THe video uses my own body to question how I am connected to spiritual concepts in a visceral sense. The complete “circle” of the gesture continues above the frame while I am left at the bottom to “navel gaze”.

Above: Installation view in Kurb Gallery, Perth, with projected video “Navel Gazing” and “The Bad Nest” sculpture beneath. Below: Photographic series “Perfect/Imperfect” which presents a pseudo-Da Vinci like, photo-composited image next to images of process that undermine its composition.

Above: Images of sculptural work with photographic series “The Bad Nest”, which constructed a ‘nest’ out of black piping that was cold, unuseful and barren - again a coment on the ‘embracing’ nature of a spirituality brodcast through artiicial means.

Other illustrations and drawings from “Navel Gazing� including a digital image (top left) and etchings.

Postmodern Prometheus 2008-10 I rst used 3D technology in “Postmoden Prometheus”. I researched creation mythologies around the world and discovered the importance of clay as something humans might be ‘formed’ from. I had the later intention to produce my own ‘world’ made up of these forms, in a game-like environment. In “Creation Totem” a video, below left, I pretended to be Coyote from Native American mythology, who is responsible for forming human beings from a ball of clay. My intention was to becme a creator of a new world of clay gures, in a similar way to how players construct micro universes in strategy ‘world-building’ games online.

I also also attempted to ‘immortalise my’ crude, worthless clay sculptures through the material of bronze (above right), and later by digitising them. By taking advantage of the architecture department’s 3D scanner (below) I transformed my crude clay forms into virtual 3D models for digital manipulation.

I asked other artists to make similar crude forms representing “new humans” . I then took these through the 3D scanning process and placed them within my rst playable 3D environment ”New Eden”. When players touched their clay objects together, they would multiply. Later on, I liked to imagine that these objects represented ‘psychologies’ or individuals subject to pliability and digital manipulation, just like users who give themselves over to online game worlds.

After a while, the island gets ‘over populated’

Above left and right: Images of a small installation of mine at the show “Post Pop Conceptualism”, featuring a stack of 3 televisions showing my Coyote totem work. I collect clay from heaven via a ladder, produce human forms from it, and bring them down to Earth. This reeects the shamanic function of an aartist - to take ideas and through craft, give meaning to otherwise worthless materials. This can also be referred to as an alchemical or ‘transformative’ process. In 2009, I attended SymbioticA, the art and science laboratory at the University of Western Australia to complete their unit “Art and Life Manipulation”. For my project there I attempted to bring a dead snail back to life by scanning it into a computer and making it controllable in a game environment. I called the snail “Gulliver”. This work echoes the words “Postmodern Prometheus”; the subtitle for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” has always been “The Modern Prometheus”. No snails were harmed during the making of this work. The words “Welcome Back, Gulliver” welcome the snail back into existence, albeit a virtual one.

I also researched the myth of ‘homonculus’; the belief in early science that the human being rst exists as a miniature white ‘man’ inside the testicles. Once inside the womb, the ‘homonculus’ increases in scale. For the above work, “The Little Homonculus Machine”, users make the virtual penis ejaculate onto a dish bearing a symbol of fertility. The miniature ‘men’ then expand in si size until the dish is overpopulated. This work creates a strange metaphor concerning the ‘race for life’.

And, to complement the above work, I produced a 3D vaginal form, from which ow ‘the waters of life’.

The New Spiritual Network 2008-10 The New Spiritual Network was a vast conglomerate of videos shown on various collected television screens. Upon each screen was a video of a performance. I had been developing pieces that concerned the multi-faceted, subjective, performative nature of spirituality in a postmodern, globalised climate. The installation was cacophonic and jabbering, each character portrayed went about their business as if oblivious to those around them. I intended for this to mirror the amorphous, impossible argument for ‘the spiritual’ and to reeect the many different, totally personal and even farcical voices for ‘spirituality’ that I had come across online. The different e screens talk like cult leaders or self-proclaimed visionaries presenting through a medium like YouTube or webcamming. One of the videos (below) featured six people listening to a speech on YouTube by Terence McKenna through headphones and repeating it simultaneously. The result was as if these people were channeling a spirit through their body. It was like a seance, although the ‘connection’ was the internet. It was called “Higher Knowledge”. “H

Other videos featured speeches based on artist Jeff Koons (below left) and philospher Slavoj Zizek (below right).

Installation views of The New Spiritual Network at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (above and below) in the HATCHED National Graduate Show, 2010. Other works of mine also contributed to this version of the installation, which had been shown previously at the Curtin University Graduate Exhibition.

The Dark Arts of Art 2009-11 “The Dark Arts of Art” is a pun, concerning the odd relationship between ‘high art’ and technology. In art there is often debate over technology’s ability to express uniqueness. In the history of painting, the gesture of the artist’s hand is important in expressing such uniqueness. Machines, in removing the touch of the artist’s hand, tend to reproduce images and make them similar or un-unique. In this project, I attempted to examine how visual art, especially abstraction, is used to emphasise a positive abstract essence about its subject ma matter. Instead, I chose to use ‘cheap’ technological processes to reduce facebook portraits to less-than--attering forms, in order to question this history.

Using, cheap, quick ‘photoshop’ lters, my goal was to to digitally reduce peoples’ portraits in the space of one minute to an abstracted charicature. I call the resulting series the “Captured Souls” , which contains about forty portraits.

Carnivale 2009 In 2009 I curated a small show.

To frame this project, I adopted the persona of a witch I call “Hecate”. Hecate has since appeared in many of my works concerning ‘the dark arts of art’. She is intended to be a subversion of benevolant shamanism in the arts, instead preferring to use computers and machines to do her bidding; her heroic powers of artistic alchemy have long since dwindled. Hecate’s works (above) featured a workshop anyone could attend called One of Hec “The Googly Eye Workshop” where participants could glue eyes to inanimate objects to endow them with life.

The Horcruxes 2009 In 2009, as part of “The Dark Arts of Art” I made seven virtual sculptures known as “The Horcruxes”. This is a name taken from “Harry Potter”. The main villain in “Harry Potter” splits his soul into seven pieces contained in seven precious objects to become immortal. I decided to pretend to split my soul into seven digital objects. To show that my soul was tied to each object, I signed my name upon the surface of each. I wanted to ask the questions: If I split my soul into seven digital objects that are available on the internet, what happens if different viewers download these images? Are they traceable? If these objects are being innnitely viewed and downloaded, then is my soul being split into an innnite number of minute fragments? How would anyone destroy such fragments? I placed these objects into a virtual viewing hall, seen below.

Carnivale 2009 In 2009 I curated a small show called “Carnivale”. I was researching the subversive function of festivals such as “The Festival of Fools”, where the town fool is king for a day, and normal binaries such as gender binaries are blurred. As part of the show we baked pancakes, dressed in silly costume, and invited a drag queen to model for drawing and painting exercises. I have also photographed the drag queen “Panache” on other occasions. “Carnivale” coincided with Halloween.

Also featuring work by Ben Baretto, Tanya Lee, Markela Panegyres and Harry Court

“Panache” aka Ryan Schulz

Memento Mori 2011 “Memento Mori” takes Facebook-style narcissism and transforms it into a “memento mori” - the reminder that no matter how beautiful, beauty will always fade and death take its hold. “Memento Mori” is Latin for “Remember your mortality”. This builds on the tradition of imagery in painting known as “Vanitas” (Latin for “vanity”). In my own “Memento Mori” I have taken a vain photo of myself in a mirror using an iphone and translated it into a ash game with many morbid monsters and skulls moving about the screen.

Above left: Hans Memling’s “Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation”; A traditional “Vanitas” painting. Note the prominence of the mirror (representing vanity), attractive nudity and juxtaposition with skulls, images of death and the Devil. Facebook is a very important innuence: It informs all of my Above right: Proole pictures from my own Facebook work dealing with portraiture, digital caricature, digital proole, representing a contemporary form of vanity. reduction and narcissism, especially those in uniform Perhaps the screen is our new mirror? series.

On_Line 2011 “On_Line” responds to online dating applications, particularly mobile applications for homosexuals. With a similar intention to the “Soul Captures”, I have taken proole images of users on these online dating applications and re-painted them with a digital painting look. My intention has been to honour the “photoshop” look to digital painting, rather than make the marks look like real paint. These works attempt to blur identity and comment on the faceless nature of online dating interactions. This is part of an ongoing goal to nd unique expression in digital language, honouring the machine and working with it, rather than trying to all-out escape its expression.

Unheimlich 2009 “Unheimlich” was a show curated by myself and Francis Russell at Kurb Gallery. It contained work by Andrew Varano, Roslyn Cadee, Harry Court, Donovan De Souza, Sheridan Coleman, myself and Francis Russell. “Unheimlich” was curated to show work about the uncanny nature of middle class suburban existence. It featured themes of suburban unrest, consumerism, futility and loneliness. It concerned the dreams and wishes broadcast by television screens, including chocolate bars, pro wrestling and super heroes.

Above from left to right: Harry Court’s “Bouncing Ball”, the logo for the show “Believe Snickers”, and Francis Russell’s “Foam”. Below: “The Unreachable Treat” and “The Spoiled Dream” by myself.

Liminal Luminary 2010 If the function of the artistic shaman is to exist ‘in the middle’ or ‘between realities’, then this is something I was exploring in “Liminal Luminary”. By lying in the middle of traffic islands my intention was to be metaphorically ‘in between’. I was in the middle of danger but also in a state of passive, meditative contemplation. Although cars were rushing past either side of my head, I could not see them. I could only see the sky. The rushing sound of cars became more like lying in a bath with the sound of water in my ears. The true art here is perhaps not the humerous image of me lying on a traffic island, but the meditative experience and view of the sky I had whilst in that ‘liminal’ space. The series medit contained twelve photographs, shown at Kurb Gallery’s show “Grifting”.

The Tarot Self Portrait 2010 For “The Tarot Self Portrait” my intention was to play with the idea of postmodern narcissism and immortality when using the internet, especially social applications like Facebook. When we take many pictures of ourselves to upload to cyberspace, we generate libraries of representations of ourselves. The Tarot seeks to describe human experience by relating us to a number of archetypes. By appropriating every possible archetype unto my own body in the Tarot’s library, I have attempted to become the supreme postmodern narcissus, capable of believing he can become ‘anything’ . The Tarot is reduced to a self-merchandising process and a performance in being a virtual chameleon. self-me

Virtual William St 2010 “Virtual William St” Was the rst fully realised and explorable 3D application I had made. It was “game-like” in format, but did not have any score, goal or narrative. It became a purely visual world explorable by two players together. The environment was based on Perth’s William St. It built on all of my previous research into Carnivale, video gaming, virtual worlds and the artist’s symbolic function in a community. I constructed the space from photographs of the street and placed 3D scanned models in empty lots along the street. In this way I intended for the work to be about what could be imagined in those empty locations; a ‘crossover’ between the real and the fake in ima translation.

It’s Perth for two players!

Virtual William St 2010 “Virtual William St” Was the rst fully realised and explorable 3D application I had made. It was “game-like” in format, but did not have any score, goal or narrative. It became a purely visual world explorable by two players together. The environment was based on Perth’s William St. It built on all of my previous research into Carnivale, video gaming, virtual worlds and the artist’s symbolic function in a community. I constructed the space from photographs of the street and placed 3D scanned models in empty lots along the street. In this way I intended for the work to be about what could be imagined in those empty locations; a ‘crossover’ between the real and the fake in ima translation. Above: A view of “Virtual William St” showing key features of the street mixed with imagined objects and forms. Below: an aerial view of the layout of the street in the game engine software.

Below: A view of an empty lot along William St with imagined sculptures and possibilities situated within, working off the aesthetic of the graffiti added by the community to the empty space.

It’s Perth for two players!

Photos were taken of the street to form the game environment’s walls. More were taken for the walls and surfaces for empty lots which would become areas for 3D sculptures to be situated.

Virtual William St was placed in its own custom-built clay arcade booths, next to a fake display of custom designed game cases. Here are pictures of it featured at the Curtin University Grad Show, 2010.

My clay arcade booths were built to reeect the original materiality of the clay sculptures that had been 3D scanned into the game. Two players could navigate the environment together; the two machines were networked.

Everyone’s a Hero in Valhalla 2010 “Everyone’s a Hero in Valhalla” responds to video gaming technology and culture, and the idea that if everyone is a hero when they project themselves into virtual characters to play games, then nobody is a hero because everyone is the same. Everyone is a hero. This series of work included some of my past work from “The Dark Arts of Art” and “Virtual William St”, but a unique part of this exploration involved the way I invented a system of ‘unwrapping’ clay gures. As part of this project I ‘unwrapped’ clay gures from the famous pantheon of Nintendo game characters, in an attempt to undermine their digital immortality. Below are some images of Super Mario going through the di initial process.

Everyone’s a Hero in Valhalla 2010 “Everyone’s a Hero in Valhalla” responds to video gaming technology and culture.


To give colour to a 3D mesh one ‘skins’ it. This involves matching a square set of co-ordinates to the points on the surface of a model and ‘wrapping’ it around. During my investigation I invented a process I call “masking” where I take the at image from a 3D mesh and aestheticise it so that it becomes a digital painting. I like to entertain the idea that this contains some sort of alchemical ‘essence’ of a virtual character or object.


Above and below: Digital paintings based on the ‘essences’ or ‘masks’ from some of my other scanned, virtual 3D clay gures.

Above: Nintendo’s Donkey Kong and Super Mario characters in 3D form, made from clay models. Their “masks” are above them. Below: The full series of clay video game characters I made with “masks” printed on transparent perspex.

Above and Below: A showing of “Everyone’s a Hero in Valhalla” also contained past work of mine, including a projection called “Ouroboros” and a display of original clay objects that had been used to populate “Virtual William St”.

FRIEND WORLD 2011 In 2010 and 2011, Perth City was undergoing many aesthetic changes. “FRIEND WORLD” was an artistic response to the way quasi-governmental bodies were changing public spaces, speciically Perth Cultural Centre, to build a ‘sense of community’. The project reeected the idea that this sense of community was fairly 2-dimensional or ‘virtual’ by translating many of the new sculptures and aesthetic elements into 3D environments. I also examined the idea of governmental control of a space or ‘surveilance’ by taking photos of people in public spaces and re-drawing them with a digital, pixel-graphic style that blurred identity with a false sense of ‘colour’ or ‘vibrancy’, di as seen below:

Installation views of “FRIEND WORLD” at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. The above image shows my pixel-style drawings, a playable “Virtual Cultural Centre” and a projected 3D animation of one of the Cultural Centre’s “HAPPY” sculptures.

These images are of “Virtual Cultural Centre”. I took a map of Perth Cultural Centre and built my own version of it using 3D modelling software. I made sure to emphasise the new sculptures and aesthetic changes being made in the space.

Such changes include painted rubbish bins, giant signs saying “Fun”, “Happy” and “Enjoy”, painted colourful lines on the ground and supersized public video screens.

Above: A video where I dressed up as a character I call “Prudence Whitehead� and delivered humerous commentary on the new aesthetic elements of Perth Cultural Centre.

These three images are of 3D animated applications I made that reeect new sculpural signs in Perth Cultural Centre. They operate somewhat like screensavers. Cutout images of local people cascade down the screen as the words rotate, jump and increase in size. This work reeects the way Perth city has used sculpture to try and literally suggest what feelings the public should have in the space.

Erth Gallery 2011-12 “Erth Gallery” is developing as a 3D gallery space. It is also known as “Virtual PICA” because it is based on the layout of Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. My intention for “Erth Gallery” once it is fully developed is to represent work that is purely digital and capable of being shown in an entirely constructed virtual environment. This will emphasise work that is true to the nature of the computer as a set of material possibilities. It would not show photographs of paintings and drawings done by hand, for example (unless conceptually it was about how they were changed when digitised). In “Erth Gallery” viewers can navigate the ‘game-like’ environment to view work such as basic animations, 3D objects, digital paintings, hear sounds and see small videos. In “Erth Gallery” objects can be scaled to any size and might defy the regular laws of physics, thus increasing the possibilities artists can explore in terms of how something might be situated or envisioned in a space.

Below: aerial view of “Erth Gallery” within the game engine software. The name “Erth Gallery” is a pun on “Perth” minus the ‘P’.

Above: Work by Kieron Broadhurst in the Gallery’s “Big Window Gallery” modelled of PICA’s “West End Gallery”.

Above: An object of mine acting as caretaker in the empty “Main Gallery” space so far. Below: Work by Amy Hickman in the “Erth Dark Space” which shows moving images.

Virtual Oxford St 2012 “Virtual Oxford St” is under construction and is a current project. It is being completed as I study in more depth the workings of game design at JMC Academy, Melbourne. This project has evolved from some of my drawings of drag queens in a pixel-graphic style. It expands my interest in translating cultural hotspots into virtual spaces, and it is a key location for homosexual politics. I am interested in the “carnivaleque” nature of the area’s ‘psychogeography’; concerning hybridity, dissolved boundaries and altered binaries. This involves the space’s users, its history and its culture. “Virtual Oxford St” will be a 2D platforming game in a pixel-graphic visual style as seen below (a platforming game is like Super Mario):

Above and Below: My original portraits of drag queens titled “Queens of the Desert” feature pixelated versions of Australian colonial and modernist landscapes by Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale and Albert Tucker. The work is obviously inspired by “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. Featuring drag queens “Hannah Conda” and”Swish Eveready”.

Other Performed Work 2008-10

Above: Me in “Putting on an Act” at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2008. I was a nalist for this short performance titled “Repeat” Below: Over the past four years I have worked as a performer in the Chrissie Parrott Performance company with Performing Lines WA. Depicted below are “Kings and Queens” (2010) and “The Garden” (2009). Other performers shown include Kate Hall, Kirsty Hillhouse, Russell Leonard, Rhiannon Newton, Claudia Alessi. Leanne Mason and Jonathan Mustard.

Above: “An Air of Propriety” 2010 with Grace Gammage, Oliver Kellow and Laura Bailey. Shown as part of City of Perth’s “In Transit” video space. Below: My character “Keith” faces the issue of cultural cringe in a performance about Australian Nationailism.

McDonald’s Bag 2012 My McDonald’s Bag was an excercise in learning how to create photo-realistic 3D sculptures. It is super-imposed onto an image of me eating at McDonald’s. My friend made the comment that the McDonald’s bag is “just as real as the meat in the burger”. This piece, although largely a technical excercise, comments on the fake nature of McDonald’s; the ‘virtual high’ experienced from a sugar rush after consumption. What is real and fake when it comes to a McDonald’s experience?

Tom Penney: Projects 2008-12  

Overview of work 2008-12 with updated cover image