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Virtual Interview with Evan Penny


By Catherine Crowston and Laura Ritchie

Q: We understand that this new show features new sculptural work, yet your practice of the past 15 years has involved an inquiry into or an exploration of the expectation of truth within photography. Is that something that continues to be a factor in your work, and in this show?

A: The engagement with photography that you refer to is still at work in this show. This is most apparent in the ‘Young” and the ‘Old” self portrait cycle of sculptures and photographs from 2011. The new work does not engage photography as a primary narrative feature, although I do think it is indirectly implied.

Q: The AGA is currently hosting the National Gallery of Canada exhibition: Clocks for Seeing: Photography, Time and Motion, which explores the idea of photography being a visual measure or marker of time. Along similar lines, I have heard you quoted to say that the photograph is “a slice of time.” Can you tell more about where photography and time meet in your sculptural works?

A: The photographic “snap shot” captures a single instant in time. This is what I mean by “slice of time”. This instantaneous means of recording and conveying information about ourselves permeates every aspect of our lives, and to a significant degree defines how we imagine ourselves in time. I use the juxtaposition between Sculpture and Photograph to explore the discrepancy between how we imagine ourselves in bodily time and space, and how we imagine ourselves through the photographic image.

Q: We also have an exhibition of portraiture on now, The Looking Glass, which includes your piece Self Portrait, Variation #3, 2012 (Hair, pigment, silicone and aluminum). This piece speaks well to the theme of contemporary-self representation (i.e. Selfie culture). In Ask Your Body, you have included self-portraits--older and younger representations of yourself. How do those these works fit into your exploration of representation and the body?

A: This question might be best answered indirectly by describing that project, which is more complex than it might at first appear. The “Young” and the “Old” self portrait cycle explores time in relation to an “adult lifespan”. How do we imagine the length and scope of our life, and how is that informed by the photographic image we employ to record those slices of our own past history or our representations of what we might become.
Central to that project is that I was imagining my youth and my old age from the vantage point of a particular moment in time in my middle age. To capture that idea and its relation to the photographic, I had two 3d scans done of myself. In the first, I assumed the posture and feel of being young, in the other of being old. I used an old photo of myself at 17 years of age to try to recall the feeling of youth, and a photo of my Father for the other to try to imagine the feeling of old age.
From the milled Styrofoam models made from these scans, I made a mould and cast them both into clay in order to re-work them, sculpting one as young as possible and the other as old as possible.
While reworking the clay image, a main objective was also to try and retain that feeling of the instantaneous photographic capture recorded by the scanning process (of myself at 55 years of age). The final sculpted images recording both a plausible idea of myself over time, in youth and old age, as well as retaining the feeling of the photographic “slice of time “captured by the scan of myself at 55.
This idea was further reinforced by making the two large format black and white photographs of the young and old sculptures.
The full titles of those works are “Portrait of the Artist as He Will Not Be” and “Portrait of The Artist as He Was Not”. Highlighting that all imaginings of who we were, are, or will be are and are all fictitious, or at the very least, subjective provisional constructs.

Q: I understand that one of your self-portraits in this project is actually a collection of fragmented body parts. Could you tell us about how Self Portrait after Gericault’s Fragments Anatomiques, 2017 is working in this collection. What do references to historical works (reoccurring in this show?) contribute to our understanding of contemporary representation?

A: Here again, I hope you don’t mind if I answer indirectly. There are 4 pieces from my new body of work in this show. They all take their cue from particular historic art works. “Self Portrait after Gericault’s Fragments Anatomiques” refers to the 3 small painting studies that Gericault made in preparation for painting his epic “Raft of The Medusa”’. In order to work out my sculptural version from the 3 paintings, I resorted to doing a body-cast of my own limbs for reference. At that point, it became a self portrait by default and the piece started skewing in its own particular direction.
The title of this show is “Ask Your Body”. The Curatorial premise is that when encountering new experience, our first response is through our body, we then move to asking our personal experience, and then to our larger cultural experience to form an understanding.
This idea is enacted in this show as one moves into and then through the space.
The first encounter (Ask your Body) is with the large “Hanging Torso” body fragment. Moving further into the space one encounters the “Young” and “Old” self portraits (Ask your Experience) and then deeper into the space one encounters the pieces that are informed by Art History (Ask Your Culture).
This relationship between Body, Personal Experience, and Cultural / Historic context form our understanding of who we are.
So to answer your question, I hope this is how I use references to historical works, to contribute to my understanding of how to make relevant and engaging contemporary representations.

Q: I believe you are doing some large-than-life things in Venice - can you tell us about the use of scale in this project, and about what role distortion (either of the body or of images) plays in your works?

A: Scale considerations in this case might be seen to relate to how large these objects need to be tin order o hold their own in the large and visually loaded space of the Chiesa di San Samuele, at the same time retaining their connection to our bodily human scale.
Distortion is one way that I refer to the Photographic space, where these kind of manipulations are a commonplace experience. Distortion in the sculptural object also de-stabilizes the bodily response and amplifies that initial questioning experience.

Q: Have the materials you use (human hair, pigmented silicone, fabric, resin) been adapted at all in this project? Ask Your Body has been described as emphasizing “the visceral manner in which viewers experience the works.” What role do materials play here?

A: My approach to materials remains largely the same with this new work, however, because the source references are more diverse, I do respond to that. For example, the Holbein sculpture includes a painted wooden “tomb” like box frame. Some surfaces are finished to refer to “painting” while others imply “stone” and others “flesh”. The visceral response is related to that initial bodily response, and I imagine some of the new work might further amplify that by virtue of their subject matter.

Q: Finally, one Alberta question -- You graduated from ACAD with a Fine Art diploma and completed post-graduate studies there as well. Can you talk about your experience and how the arts climate in Alberta may have informed your practice?

A: I do remember the ACAD environment as fostering a great work ethic and sense of community. I also credit and am indebted to the personal and professional role modeling I received from a number of instructors, most notably that of Katie Ohe, for which I will be forever grateful.

Tags: Affiliated
May 08, 2017


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