Penguin Pen (a meditation on climate change)
Kennedy Browne, 2 channel DVD installation, 13 mins, Thailand, 2005

This lens-based work evolved out of a response to a particular space: a deserted penguin enclosure in a Southeast Asian zoo. This space was treated as a microcosm to broach wider issues of social and ecological importance, i.e. climate change. This approach is non-narrative and non-literal, and maybe slightly absurd.

This simulated Antarctic environment is constructed through the crafty use of such generic modern materials as moulded concrete and swimming-pool-blue tiles. The space is now deserted, empty and hot in the absence of functioning climate controls (cooled, salted water and refridgeration units). These were all man-made attempts to create a hospitable environment for Antarctic penguins, put on display far from home in the Tropics.

This artificial space was used as a readymade set for the two protagonists in the video (the artists) to temporarily inhabit. This creates a slightly ridiculous spectacle for viewership, as the artists (a male and a female of the species), are stranded on the concrete island the penguins once occupied. Despite their modern enclosure, surrounded by glass and numerous windows, they are extremely vulnerable to the elements: weather varies between extreme sun (when they drink iced water, sweating and surrounded by an empty artificial ‘sea’), and monsoon rain, when they desperately attempt to collect the water that falls from the sky. This evokes a dialogue between the interior and exterior climates of the building and the body. There is also the suggestion that this micro environment may represent imbalances on a larger scale.

Sound alternates between channels of the installation, from driving tropical rain to the insect sounds of the jungle, and through these sounds can be heard the whir and hum of generators. The absence of the penguins renders the space mute and uninteresting to the zoo-going audience. In place of their viewership is a camera that records the artist’s intervention. This camera’s relationship with the artists and their behaviours mimics surveillance and real-TV techniques. The artists periodically address this camera’s gaze as it attempts to track and interpret their location, and this shifting game of evasion and confrontation draws the camera around the space in an entrapped aimless loop..

Exhibited at:

EV+A giveaway, curated by Katerina Gregos, Limerick
Tulca Arts Festival, Galway, curated by Aine Phillips, 2007
Claremorris Open, curated by Jeremy Millar, 2006

Images: installation view and stills from ‘rainy day’ and ‘sunny day’ channels.