Penelope Cain 

‘Saturn's Breath’, 2019

Video, 3’ 47”


Penelope Cain is an interdisciplinary artist, working between drawing, photography and video.

Penelope Cain has a background in veterinary science and recently graduated with MFA from

Sydney College of the Arts (2016). She has undertaken residencies at the Australia Council for

the Arts studio in Rome, Asialink residency in Taipei and most recently, the Power Institute

Award residency at the Cite International des Arts, Paris. She has exhibited in Sydney,

Melbourne, London, Rome, Seoul and Taipei. She was a 2017 resident at Parramatta Artist

Studios. She lives and works between Sydney and London.


About the work: 

Landscape in its widest terms is central to my practice. The German term Kulturlandschaft describes a landscape marked by human culture, an occupied and colonised landscape, bearing the manifest residues and remains of our cultural, physical and economic presence on the land. This is the territorialised, extracted and transformed landscape of the Anthropocene and the focus of my research.

Current research is a molecular-level mapping, using as a starting point Australia’s first colonial coin, made from Spanish silver dollars, and tracing contamination to a remote glacier in the Peruvian Andes. Lead dust from mining the silver that went to make these coins, from Potosi in Bolivia, has been detected in ice-core samples from Quelccaya, a glaciated icecap in Peru. Potosi was one of the largest Spanish colonial silver mines in history and lead in dust from crushing rock to extract silver contaminated the local environment and became wind-born, where it was incorporated in snow and ice falling on Quelccaya. The vertical columns of ice drilled through the Quelccaya icecap map the extractive and economic output of mining at Potosi through layers of lead residues over the length of ice. Quelccaya is melting, and is not predicted to last more that 50 years, so these ice-cores may become the only historic residues of all the atmospheric data captured within Quelccaya icecap over millennia. Saturns Breath is a video documentation of a performance at Quelccaya. In the video, flags bearing an image of an oversized galena crystal (silver/ lead, the form mined in Potosi) were raised over the Quelccaya ice cap by men from the region, in an act of recognition of the molecular level territorialisation and an act of resistance reclamation by these men. These flags also act as a form of mourning standards for the emergent anthropogenic landscape- lead over ice, extraction over precipitation.

In this research I’ve been working with climate scientists in Peru, Denmark and USA. The video, Saturns Breath, was made through the assistance and facilitation of HAWAPI, a Lima-based independent arts organisation.




Social Media: @penelope.cain