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Netherlands-New Zealand Collaboration introduces an old ‘new’ art form

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 Māpuna 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,” says 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,” says Arjan. “Dutch museums have used paper strips or ‘scent dispensers’ to evoke, for example, 18th-century canal house odours – both fragrant and foul.

“These are the new techniques and approaches to art that we want to introduce to New Zealand audiences. Olfactory art is all the rage in the US and Japan. Let’s have a sniff at it in Aotearoa as well!”

The Māpuna Kabinet Art Gallery – in the multi-cultural Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom facility – switches between Māori, Pākeha 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 pre-dominantly in Aotearoa, but have received recognition for their ground-breaking and innovative work, especially in Europe and the Americas,” says 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.”

“Through our collaboration with the Netherlands, we will show off Raewyn’s work in the international context in which she delivers her work.”

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,” says Arjan. “We expect people to be mesmerised, as they reflect on 20 different scents which they may be able to smell, or not...”

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. She explores how scents influence wellbeing and emotions.

“We had some logistical issues to overcome, bringing Mosmeisje here from the other side of the world, but we really wanted this state of the art multimedia work as part of the exhibition,” says Arjan.

“An atmospheric video-scape that evokes a virtual brain shower plays on a large screen. On the wall next to it hangs a photographic composition on a velvet tapestry, in relief, with an integrated fragrance system that releases an arrangement with oakmoss scents. The piece has an aphrodisiac ‘animal musk’ component. It will be a sensuous experience!”

The other Dutch artist that is part of the mix is Frank Bloem – with a column emitting scents from the North Sea.

“Frank was commissioned to undertake this project through the ‘Embassea of the North Sea’,” says Arjan. “Most Dutch immigrants will have fond childhood memories of trips to the Noordzee, and its popular holiday places. We want to bring that intense nostalgia back here. The ‘Big Dutch Day Out’ in April brings 1,000s of ‘Dutchies’ to Foxton. They will love it!”

The aim for the column is to feature a Māori 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 Māori and Dutch culture, so Frank requested that detail. We are working with a local artist to provide that taonga,” says Arjan.

“Also – our Māori 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, micro-processors, 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.

Dr. Caro Verbeek – curator at Kunstmuseum Den Haag – is an expert on the history of olfactory art and a professor of sensory history at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Her wall texts explain the history of Olfactory Art, in Europe and the Netherlands.

Caro has worked on the smells of the Battlefield of Waterloo (in collaboration with IFF), and an 18th century canal house – to make those scents come alive again. Her academic work provides a context for the ‘Smells like Roses – Rozengeur’ exhibition.

“Deodorized museums hardly represent art history, nor the olfactory practices of a growing number of artists. But many endeavours and institutions are ‘re-odorizing’ history and cultural sites as we speak. As a curator, I raise awareness for the essential yet overlooked role smell plays in art and history,” says Caro.

Another wall text explains the influence of Dutch immigrants on the local rose-growing industry. And how they introduced new scents and cut-flower varieties to New Zealand.

“The Dutch became the ‘Invisible Immigrants’ during the 1950s and 1960s, as we were expected to assimilate and become ‘New Britishers’,” says Arjan. “What most people don’t realise is that the smells of their Vogels toast, real coffee, artisan cheeses, salamis, and even the chicken we eat these days – all have strong origins in what, for several decades, was the country’s largest non-British immigrant group.

“The history of smells is an integral part of human history, as we spread across the globe.”

Oranjehof Dutch Connection Centre

Oranjehof is a museum with a difference. It’s got a quirky humour of its own. It’s gezellig (cosy), and delightfully colourful. This is the place where all things Dutch come together.

Oranjehof tells the stories of Dutch New Zealanders, and preserves the Dutch immigrants’ cultural heritage. The Dutch Connection Centre aims to be a source of inspiration for enhanced collaboration between two countries.

Artists like Ans Westra and Leon van den Eijkel were featured in the art gallery, as well as exhibitions of Dutch origin like 'Rembrandt Re-mastered' and 'Anne Frank'. 

‘Rozengeur’ is an international collaboration. It signifies the importance and benefits of exchanges, inclusivity and diversity – in an ever more fractured world.

Smells like Roses – Rozengeur

Official Opening – Sat 1 April, 1pm

Open to 27 May. Plus 5 June to 2 July. (Waitangi Tribunal interlude: 28 May to 4 June) 


Māpuna – Kabinet Art Gallery
Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom
92 Main Street, Foxton

For images, interviews or additional information, please contact:
Arjan van der Boon,   /   027 494 3658
Raewyn Turner,   /   021 246 8440
Claudia de Vos,  / 00 31 651 88 4013
Frank Bloem,  /  00 31 644 71 8080

Thanks to our benefactors: Van Lier Nurseries, Frank en Koba Schuurman, IFF, Pacific Flavours, the NetherlaNZ Foundation, Paerangi Services, Horowhenua District Council, the artists and many others, who all together have made this exhibition possible.

On the Scent of Olfactory Art – Geurkunst – in Aotearoa

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