Speaking with Australian sculptor Penny Harris about her current body of work opens an exciting conversation about archaeology, trans-oceanic travel, and interwoven stories. Harris is looking for new challenges, and so, she has been accumulating facts, ideas, and techniques. All of this material converges in a single goal: to catch time in an object that lets materials talk. It may sound complex, but when listening to Harris’s motivations, the poetry of her work becomes clear. Bronze, its resilience and surface treatment, drives the narratives behind her sculptures, which result from the slow burning of real objects. This is the same process enacted at Pompeii during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. That tragedy created a magnificent archaeological site, where the ordinary objects of domestic life are preserved and encased in a kind of poetics—very much like Harris’s work.
At the end of the 14th Century BC a wooden trading ship bound for the Nile river carried exotic objects and materials including hippopotamus teeth, ostrich eggs, terebinth resin, murex seashells, glass ingots, copper and tin ingots and ivory. The trading ship sunk during bad weather off the coast of South Western Turkey and was discovered off the Grand Cape (in Turkish Uluburun) by a sponge diver in 1982.
As incarnations of a reflection on the transience of things, Penny Harris’ bronze works of the past five years – most of which recently came together in the form of a retrospective exhibition, The Collected Poetry of Doubt, at the FCA Gallery2 – present an undeniable kinship with the concept exemplified in the Japanese expression mono no aware. The term, which roughly translates as the “pathos of things”, encompasses both an awareness of the impermanence of life and its constituents, and the belief that such awareness heightens their value, albeit bitter-sweet.