BY Emily Cormack in Reviews | 01 OCT 11
Featured in
Issue 142

Dane Mitchell

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Artspace, Dunedin Public Art Gallery

BY Emily Cormack in Reviews | 01 OCT 11

Dane Mitchell, 'Radiant Matter II', 2011, Installation view at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. 

Radiant Matter’ – the title given to a trio of exhibitions by New Zealand artist Dane Mitchell – pays homage to William Crookes, a physicist and devout spiritualist who straddled both disciplines in his quest to determine the physical properties of the intangible. For more than a decade, Mitchell has been investigating thresholds, occupying and analyzing often-invisible processes of transmission between states, realms or dimensions, in an attempt to understand – as he puts it – the place ‘where both scientist and shaman illuminate the unseen’.

The first of the exhibitions was held at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth. Mitchell uses perfume as one of his primary sculptural mediums, considering it ‘a thought object that takes shape in the brain’. For the show he responded to the coastal, rain-washed landscape by creating a synthetic scent, Your Memory of Rain Encased (UV Release) (all works 2011). The perfume was encased between clamped sheets of glass, encapsulated in a silver nitrate-coated glass object that released the perfume when exposed to UV, and sprayed at intervals into the gallery through a hole in the wall.

These attempts to control a scent’s dissemination into a space can be understood as part of Mitchell’s larger investigations into the channelling of invisible forces, be they physical or celestial. Well known for his work with psychics, for the second show – at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery – Mitchell worked with a witch in order to create a gateway to the ‘etheric realm’. Collaborating with her in the creation of a steel sculptural work that was shaped to facilitate the opening of the gateway, Mitchell was asked by the witch to assist by invoking the names of any ancestors he had in the Dunedin region. The result, Spoken Heredity Talisman, was created by breathing their names into a glass blower’s molten glass, which then hardened into the shape of the air required to name his predecessors.

For another part of the Dunedin show, Mitchell created a second site-responsive perfume, Epitaph, that drew on the gothic nature of Dunedin’s Scottish-influenced surrounds. An uncomfortably familiar scent, Epitaph is the smell of a vacated tomb or empty vitrine. In another work, Bagpipe Talismans (Funeral Lament in Glass), Mitchell channelled the air blown through bagpipes as they played a Scottish funeral lament into molten glass. Expanding into a large bubble that hardens into the shape of the lament’s sound, the work commemorates in solid form the ritualistic melodies that mark the passage between life and death.

The third show, at Artspace in Auckland, focused on the transformation process of a perfume from solid, to liquid, to gas. This time the perfume was The Smell of an Empty Space. In one room this was emitted as a plume that was sprayed every five minutes from a mirrored plinth; in another, the perfume was contained within hand-blown glass objects; and in the third it was sprayed onto unfixed photographic paper. Presented under red safelights, The Smell of an Empty Space Perfume Plume (Solid) comprised 16 framed works that were in a perpetual state of becoming. As chemical reactions between the synthetic liquids of the perfume and unfixed photographic paper slowly developed over the course of the exhibition, the circular spray mark turned a deep shade of orange and the surrounding paper transformed to a dark indigo. Whilst the liquid spray has indeed taken on a solid state in the form of a circle of chemical reaction, it is never stable. Perpetually paused at this moment of transition, this work proves not only the mutability of all things, but is also visible evidence of the threshold between two states.

Emily Cormack is a curator and writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the 2016 Curator of ‘Primavera: Young Australian Artists’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia.