In her first European solo show, Australian artist and ceramist Penny Byrne presents Europa Europa, an installation work at the Michael Reid Gallery in Berlin. Composed of a series of vintage blue and white porcelain figurines clad in the iconic bright orange life jackets that have now become synonymous with the refugee crisis.
Seeking to highlight the perilous journey undertaken by large numbers of migrants across Europe, Penny aims to recreate the sheer quantity and desperation of those risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean.
Adrift in an assortment of porcelain antique household serving plates, gravy boats, cups, and bowls, (delicate vessels that reflect the determination to find any means necessary to cross seas), the figures are stranded around the gallery in various states of safety. The crudely constructed bright orange rings that hang around the necks of the figurines are clumsily constructed, a statement from Penny on the worrying trend of refugees being given fake or faulty life jackets.
A number of solo figurines, often without floatation aids, lay separated from the main groups across the gallery floor and attached to nails in the walls; a tribute to those left behind and those who have become victims of such a perilous journey.
Most of the figurines have been donated by Penny’s social media followers. Several months ago she created The Great Blue and White Figurine Hunt of 2017 on social media. She has now had over 80 figurines donated from keen followers, a reflection on the power of what can be achieved in joining together to create something better.
Penny says: "I don’t seek to promote any particular political stance on the crisis. I just believe it’s important that we continue to bring to light such tragic situations, to highlight the plight of those who have to resort to such drastic measures so that as a society, we can come together in finding solutions."
As an established ceramics conservator, Penny is an expert in working with porcelain, a medium which she feels holds an unmistakably kitsch aesthetic. In using vintage figures to create such a politically charged and engaging piece, her work begins to play with notions of history and memory, key ideas that emanate from #EuropaEuropa which bring to light how pressing this matter really is.
Europa Europa kicks off at the Michael Reid Gallery in Berlin on 6 October and runs until 4 November 2017.