Post by Catherine du Peloux Menage
HERE AND NOW – an immersive installation
APJ is all about perfume – so it’s all about smells, not those of everyday life which we often ignore, but the ones that are purposefully created, manufactured, and put in bottles. Many argue that perfume creation is a form of artistic creation. Tamara Dean and Ainslie Walker have turned this idea around by making scent an integral part of a work of art and challenging our perception that only certain smells count as ‘scent’. Tamara is the artist who created the immersive installation Here and Now, and Ainslie (well-known to APJ readers for her reviews) created the scent which forms part of the installation displayed at the University of New South Wales last week.
The idea was to create a piece of nature in the middle of a busy city to remind alienated city dwellers of powerful, primordial connections between humans and nature. It was a truly immersive work. We entered a low-lit penumbral space after removing our shoes and walking through a darkened tunnel (birth canal?), to be faced with a large photograph of a river bank and crouching naked figures covering the whole wall opposite, with wall-size mirrors on both sides. The ground was a pool of water with stepping stones leading towards the image. Walking across the stones, water splashed onto the feet. There was a low buzz of sound and an ambient scent.
The scent was so perfectly appropriate to the surroundings that at first I almost didn’t smell it, but just experienced it as natural. It actually felt as if I really was in a forest, crossing a stream, hearing cicadas and bellbirds, taking in the smell of the earth, the decaying tree trunks, the dampness of water. It was a brief moment of (re)connection with the natural world which many of us rarely experience. All the senses were involved. Touch, as we wore no shoes, sound through the cricket and bird song. We could see the photograph, its reflections and our own image. The air had a scent and smell and taste are so intertwined that the smell of the air almost left a residual taste at the back of my throat.
Ainslie said that the process began with research into the smells of the environment of the installation, wet vegetation, water, earth and leaves. She didn’t want to create a pretty ‘bottled perfume’ smell but to draw our attention to the scents around us to which we often pay no attention. As she experimented to create the final ‘Eau de Here and Now’, she avoided obvious ‘green’ smells of grass, mint, or eucalyptus or specific ‘woody’ smells and came back to the smell of the vegetation, the soil and rain. We were given a small vial of the scent to take away so we can plunge ourselves back into that darkened room, back into that artificial recreation of the natural though the perfume of nature.
Catherine du Peloux-Menage XX