Radiant Matter III
Artspace, Auckland, New Zealand
Radiant Matter III, 2012
Auckland, New Zealand
For the third presentation in the Radiant Matter series, what is instantly striking is the lack of objects. For this exhibition, Mitchell has stripped the gallery bare. An important ‘unseen’ aspect of this exhibition is the physical and psychological cleansing of the space; the artist instituted a regime of tidying and repairing the three exhibition rooms, so that no extraneous elements (dirty matter ) would colour the visitor’s experience.
The promotional image for the exhibition is of a venturi vaporiser: an exquisite hand-blown mechanism that transforms a substance from a liquid to gaseous state, by smashing its molecules against a glass wall. Placed in a mirrored box, which resides on the floor of the main exhibition space, the venturi pumps out at five minute intervals the latest of Mitchell’s perfumes, designed in consultation with Michel Rounditska. Plugged into the only visible electrical source, and placed in the furthest corner from the gallery’s entrance, the mirror box is a surprisingly diminutive object for the area it has been allocated in the exhibition. However, as a sculptural proposition, Smell of an Empty Room (Vaporised), (2011) literally and metaphorically fills the space, bombarding the olfactory senses before the source of this unusual smell is perceived visually.
The scent has a distinctly acrid fruity cast that verges on a sickly sweet pungency; it has a strangely youthful presence. As the artist notes, “The perfume is synthetically reproduced, it is a powerful, spacious, clean, ‘fresh air’ concoction that is sharp and headachy. It neatly creates an illusion of empty space, like ‘cartoon air’”.
The Smell of an Empty Space Perfume Plume (Solid), (2011) is a work comprised of sixteen immaculately framed pieces of unfixed photographic paper that have been sprayed with the ‘space’ perfume. The presentation of this line-up of repeating perfume tests could be a perfunctory process, if it was not for a range of factors: the artist’s selection of paper stock (which shifts to a psychedelic purple shade as it degrades) and the obsessive connotations of fixing this allusive substance (which burns an orange spherical imprint into each work). Located in a long corridor that is bathed in red light, where green and blue spectrum light has been removed, the artist literally slows down the rate of change in these light sensitive pictures and metaphorically alters the effects of time. Recreating a photographic dark room with the safelight on, this work also has cinematic properties; there is a distinct sense of time-lapse as you move through the corridor-like gallery with its repeated halo projection.
The Smell of an Empty Space (Liquid), (2011) is the final moment in the exhibition. It consists of a series of delicately rendered glass vials that lock in the fluid perfume; they are placed on a sizeable mirror sheet that is held in place by a group of g-clamps. There is a spellbinding aspect to this incandescent chamber, time is needed to adjust to the intense clinical light levels and the topsy-turvy spatial dimension created by the low-lying mirror table. Mitchell does not simply flip this room in these terms, he also shifts its designation — it usually operates as a dark projection space, and its place in the architectural hierarchy — although the smallest room, the largest and in many respects most complex artwork resides here. This uncanny quality is continued with the small glass vessels whose antenna-like ends pick up the faintest movement in the building; their shimmering and vibrating condition provides both a moment of beauty and anxiety.
Text: Aaron Kreisler