Olfactory art: Dutch-NZ exhibition makes scents
An international collaboration between Dutch and New Zealand artists will put a bright spotlight on olfactory art. The Smells like Roses – Rozengeur exhibition, in Foxton’s Ma¯puna Kabinet Art Gallery, opens on 1 April and will run until early July.
New Zealand galleries have paid fleeting attention to the art form in the recent past. And a smattering of new perfumers have set up exciting businesses over the last few years – perhaps even the beginnings of an artisanal industry. But olfactory art is still largely an unknown, in Aotearoa.
“Artworks, imbued with scents, are known to enhance or create strong intimate or mood changing experiences that can evoke memories and emotions,” said Arjan van der Boon, co-chair of the Oranjehof Dutch Connection museum and co-curator of the exhibition.
On the European continent, the tradition goes back to the late 1800s. In the Netherlands, the ‘disruptive’ art forms of the 1960-ies saw a revival of experiments with scents.
“Today, even established institutions like the Rijksmuseum, where the old Dutch masters are on display, use smells to let visitors more holistically experience the past,” said Arjan. “Dutch museums have used paper strips or ‘scent dispensers’ to evoke, for example, 18th-century canal house odours – both fragrant and foul.
“Olfactory art is all the rage in the US and Japan. Let’s have a sniff at it in Aotearoa as well.”
The Ma¯puna Kabinet Art Gallery – in the multi-cultural Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom facility – switches between Ma¯ori, Pa¯keha and Dutch New Zealand exhibitions. The ‘Smells like Roses – Rozengeur’ exhibition brings all three cultures together to reflect the partnership that runs the award-winning cultural centre in the arts and heritage town of Foxton.
“Raewyn Turner and her artistic partner Brian Harris work predominantly in Aotearoa, but have received recognition for their groundbreaking and innovative work, especially in Europe and the
Americas,” said Arjan.
“Working with scientists from Plant & Food Research, Raewyn has dived deep into olfactory art for over two decades, creating installations and large-scale multi-sensory performances — for example with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Much of the floor and wall space in the Gallery will be hers.”
The exhibition features Raewyn’s latest installation ‘Waiting Room’, that muses on the distortion of smell caused by Covid. It features scents, rose petals and an over-sized double pendulum clock with a crazy movement that can be described as a feat of engineering.
Even more imposing is her surreal ‘Downwind’ installation, previously shown in Sydney (2010). Created in collaboration with Brian Harris — who has decades of expertise in providing robotics and electronics for film industry blockbusters — it features microprocessors and sensors that act when a person gets close.
“Imagine walking into a large room, populated by what appear to be giant, person-high, alien figure heads — that eerily exhale scents over you, as you approach them,” said Arjan.
In the middle of the gallery, a two sided tapestry with an image of a ‘Single Pine’ hangs from the ceiling that emanates the scent — of course — of a pine forest. The artwork by Claudia de Vos is visually linked to her other two works, a video reflecting on the goddess of nature ‘Gaia’ with pine scents, and ‘Mosmeisje — Moss Girl’.
Claudia is one of a few Dutch artists who work exclusively with natural fragrances and essential oils extracted from plants. The other Dutch artist that is part of the mix is Frank Bloem — with a column emitting scents from the North Sea.
The aim for the column is to feature a Ma¯ ori art work, to represent the ocean links between the great moana gracing Aotearoa’s shores and the coastline of the Netherlands.
“Water and sea are key aspects of both Ma¯ori and Dutch culture, so Frank requested that detail. We are working with a local artist to provide that taonga,” said Arjan.
“Also — our Ma¯ori partner in Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom has strong associations and long heritage in working with Harakeke, so those smells will be present too.
“All these artworks together will create a hyper-sensory experience, stimulating 4 of our 5 senses — crossing two continents and the oceans. We expect it to have a wider impact, so it can hopefully inspire others to incorporate scents in their art works.”
Audiences can witness how the potential of olfactory art can be released by smart science, robotics, microprocessors, new technologies and techniques — stimulating alternative experiences.
Several workshops with Raewyn Turner will be part of the Public Outreach programme — particularly on the Big Dutch Day Out, on 29 April. ■ Smells like Roses — Rozengeur will be open from April 2 — May 27, and June 5 — July 2
It will be closed for a Waitangi Tribunal sitting from May 28 to June 4.