In here is a single artwork called Iris, Iris, Iris. It’s made up of many interconnected elements, spread across two galleries.
Luckily for you, we have the artist here, Dane Mitchell, to help you unpack everything. Kia ora, Dane!
Hey, how are you?
I’ll leave you to it.
My name is Dane Mitchell. I’m an artist based in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau, and we’re here at my show at Te Papa – Iris, Iris, Iris.
So, we’re just going to slowly walk through the gallery. And as you walk in, first of all, your nose is hit by this strong odour in the room, a very strong odour of iris. You’re kind of surrounded by this odour: it’s clinging to the walls, filling the space. In some ways, it’s a very large sculpture because it fills the entire gallery.
I’ve had a longstanding interest in unseen forces and the activation of invisible forces. And fragrance and smell – our sense of smell – is a really kind of … I think is a very simple and elegant and approachable way to think about the unseen and how it impacts us, and how we feel it, how we sense it in our bodies.
You’ll see three elements of the exhibition in this first room.
One is a small latticed form sitting on the floor with a piece of silk with a print of my eye on it, in which a fragrance has been infused. And then a low blue concrete base. On top of this base sits a large glass vessel containing a concoction, a perfume. And then you hear this gentle hum of some concealed motor turning and churning this liquid in some kind of continuous vortex.
I think the work presents as something quite clinical. It presents as something that looks like science. Perhaps it looks like chemistry. And yet what is actually happening is something far more poetic and experiential and perhaps emotional.
So, yeah, I don’t anticipate viewers needing any sort of foreknowledge – beyond perhaps being open to the possibility, or this kind of poetic sense, of the interconnectedness of our senses. And how they’re quite porous with the world, and porous with objects.
You know, we could think about the way that the nose and the eye are both sort of windows, or openings, between our exterior selves and the world.
These oversized incense sticks that lean delicately against the wall – these are handmade, they’re hand-extracted. And you can see they’re sort of slightly warped and irregular, which I absolutely love about them.
Incense has a history of being used as a timekeeping device. It was often used, in both Chinese and Japanese culture, as a means to record time of service in some professions.
And so this is a clock: if you lit these incense one after the other, the time that it would take to burn is more or less equal to the lifespan of an iris bulb.
There are over a thousand of these, and these are made through the incredible generosity of a 380-year-old company in Japan called Shoyeido. And I worked with them to develop both the kind of the dormant fragrance of the unlit incense and the incense when it’s lit.
It hits the wall of the first room that we are in, and if you walk into the next room, the line of iris incense continues. And as you walk, as you sort of move down the work, the light kind of flickers and shifts and moves. So it feels very much kind of alive.