South Australian School of Art
Sydney College of the Arts
|Occupation||Artist, theorist, curator and teacher in the field of Digital Cultural Practices, Embodied Interaction and Interactive art.|
Penny was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1955. He attended Newington College (1968–1973)  before receiving an undergraduate diploma in Fine Art from the South Australian School of Art in 1979. He then went on to get his graduate degree form the Sydney College of the Arts in 1982 after which he began focusing on electronic and time-based media.
Appointments and Professorship
Penny has held positions as Lecturer at City Art Institute, Sydney from 1984 to 1988, Professor at the University of Florida in 1989 and Professor at Carnegie Mellon University from 1993 to 2001. Since 2001 he has been a professor at University of California, Irvine, where he founded the Arts, Computation and Engineering (ACE) graduate program that was active from 2003 to 2011. He has been a guest professor at the Interdisciplinary Master in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media (CSIM) at Pompeu Fabra University, (Barcelona) from 2007 to 2013. He is currently resident faculty at the Department of Studio Art at UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts where he teaches mechatronic art, media art history and theory, and contemporary cognitive science and philosophy of mind.
Since the 1980s Penny has been creating interactive and robotic art pieces that address critical issues in digital culture discourses, especially around enactive and embodied interaction. A central concern of his robotic works is the space of interaction between the machine and the human observer. His work is informed by traditions of practice in the arts including sculpture, video-art, installation and performance and has been shown in a number of venues and international art festivals such as ZKM or Ars Electronica.
After a series of early sculptural and kinetic works, in the early 1990s Penny created Petit Mal, which he presented internationally from 1995 to 1997 and again in 2006 after a careful restoration that maintained the original electronic configuration of the piece. Petit Mal is a human-sized robot consisting of two large wheels and a central body that appears to continuously be re-equilibrating itself. It is a robotic work of art that "attempts to explore autonomous behavior as a probe of interactivity and the research field of A-life."
Penny’s theoretical work includes topics such as enactive and embodied cognition, ethology, neurology, phenomenology, human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, robotics, artificial life, critical theory, cultural and media studies. He is the author of several papers and essays. In 1993, he curated Machine Culture at SIGGRAPH 93. He edited the anthology Critical Issues in Electronic Media (SUNY Press 1995). He was director of Digital Arts and Culture conference 2009 (DAC09) In 2016 he will host a conference A Body of Knowledge - Embodied Cognition and the Arts at UCI.
In his profile as an editor of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Penny describes his interests as follows: "My ongoing concern with the negotiation of practices, discourses and commitments in engineering with respect to those of the arts has involved an extended consideration of the history and theory of Artificial Intelligence and the forms of Cognitive Science related to it. These fields enforce a deeply dualising model of human being which is incompatible with practices of the arts. The adoption of computational technology into the arts has the insidious effect of ‘hollowing-out’ long traditions of embodied practices. I have referred to this as a Trojan Horse effect. Fortuitously, over the last two decades, a reaction to such dualising has also occurred in cognitive science. The new distributed, embodied, enactive and situated cognitive sciences address the kinds of embodied practices and sensibilities I have been focusing on in the arts."
- Phatus (2010) - http://simonpenny.net/works/phatus.html
- Walleye (2006-2009) - http://simonpenny.net/works/walleye.html
- Body Electric (2006) - http://www.eng.uci.edu/node/182
- Fugitive II (2004) - https://web.archive.org/web/20060919173755/http://www.acmi.net.au/fugitive.jsp
- Bedlam (2003)- http://billvorn.concordia.ca/robography/Bedlam.html
- Traces (1999) - http://simonpenny.net/works/traces.html
- Petit Mal (1993) - http://simonpenny.net/works/petitmal.html
- Big Father (1991–1992) - http://simonpenny.net/works/bigfather.html
- Pride of Our Young Nation (1990–1991) http://simonpenny.net/works/pride.html
- Lo Yo Yo (1988) - http://simonpenny.net/works/loyoyo.html
- Stupid Robot (1987) - http://simonpenny.net/works/stupidrobot.html
- University of California, Irvine
- Newington College Register of Past Students 1863-1998 (Syd, 1999) pp 155
- Charlie Gere, Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body (2005) Berg, p. 137
- Mitchell Whitelaw, "Metacreation. Art and Artificial Life" (2004) MIT Press, p. 124
- Stephen Wilson, Information Arts (2002) MIT Press, p. 345