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2017 / 2018


Iris, Iris, Iris, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (images) & Mori Art Museum

Auckland, New Zealand & Tokyo, Japan

Iris, Iris, Iris (1), 2017

Glass, concrete, brass, Olympus camera lens, Janome umbrella, Aromascope-ampoules, tubing, pumps, clamps, iris flower

3000mm x 3000mm x 1000mm (approx)


Iris, Iris, Iris (2), 2017

liquid perfume, glass, concrete, brass, magnetic stirrer

1500mm x 1500mm x 400mm (approx)


Iris, Iris, Iris (3), 2017

Brass, habotai silk, mister, glass, rope

approx 635mm x 635mm x 510mm (h)


Iris, Iris, Iris (4), 2017

Brass, habotai silk, incense, rope

approx 635mm x 635mm x 510mm (h)


Iris, Iris, Iris (5), 2017


550 x approx dia 18mm x 700/750mm each

Mitchell’s new work, Iris, Iris, Iris was produced specifically for this exhibition after having conducted a multi-faceted research process that included research into traditional Japanese incense to a scientific analysis of various fragrances. This body of work explores diverse meanings of the word ‘iris’, which seeks to link the ocular and the olfactory. 

Displayed in this laboratory-like exhibition space are ‘invisible’ materials such as incense and a perfume, combined with elements related to the act of ‘seeing’, such as through the iris of our eyes, the iris used in apertures of a camera, the Greek goddess Iris, and other objects related to the manifold meanings of ‘iris’, such as the traditional Japanese janome (‘snake’s eye’) umbrella that has been produced by artisnal makers to mimic the colour of Mitchell’s own irises, alongside images taken of the artist’s irises when he was ten-years old by an iridologist. 

Inspired by the belief in tsukumogami (‘tool spirits’) that are said to dwell in various well-used tools and implements (often janome), Mitchell has also used gas chromatography mass spectrometry, a technique used to analyze the ‘headspace’ that surround objects in perfumery to recreate scent profiles of objects, to quantify the ‘invisible’ spirits that surround the iris flower, the iris of the camera, and the iris in the form of a janome.

Iris Perfume 

Irises are plants belonging to the iris genus. Although its fragrance is not conspicuous, this work consists of a perfume produced in collaboration with Takasago International Corporation, the largest fragrance manufacturer in Japan. This artificial fragrance reproduces the lyrical, composite fragrance not just of the iris plant, but also the fragrance emitted by the iris of the camera and the iris of a janome umbrella (produced in the colour of his own iris). This liquid, continually agitated by a stirrer, synthesises three types of irises — while perhaps also volatilising its invisible ‘spirits’ at the same time. 


In The Tale of Genji, a kimono is draped over the fusego, a basket whose bottom contains an incense burner that imparts a fragrance to the wearer’s clothing. Mitchell’s two solid brass fusego each contain perfume and incense. The cloth that hangs from each fusego is printed with a photograph of Mitchell’s iris, taken when he was ten years old for the purposes of an experiment conducted by an iridologist. 


Janome (which takes its name from the Japanese for ‘snake’s eye’) is a concentric pattern that became a popular form of adornment for paper umbrellas during the Edo period, commonly used by priests and doctors. In Japan, it is believed that spirits called tsukumogami (‘tool spirits’) dwell in various well-used tools and implements. A well-known example is the karakasa kozō, a Yokai creature in the shape of an umbrella. The janome umbrella on display here was fabricated by taking the colour of the artist’s own irises. 

Iris and Camera Lens 

Just like the pupil of an eye, cameras have an adjustable aperture function called an ‘iris’ that regulates brightness. Iris is also the name of the Greek goddess — both a messenger goddess and the personification of the rainbow. Olympus, the Japanese manufacturer of optical devices, takes its company name from Mount Olympus, home to many deities from Greek mythology, and the site where Iris was dispatched as a messenger. 

Iris Incense 

The culture of incense has seen it also used as a clock and to mark time. The 500 incense sticks (80 kilograms) on display in this exhibition is equivalent to the time period of five years, when burnt consecutively. Irises are said to require propagation by root division every five years, a period that is understood to represent its life cycle. 


In order to realise this exhibition, we are grateful to have received tremendous technical support and production assistance from Shoyeido Incense Co. and Takasago International Corporation. We are equally thankful to Obayashi Corporation for their sponsorship of this series, and Creative New Zealand for their support for this co-commission. 

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