Bachelor of Fine Art, Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours), MADA
By Nic Trifiletti
An era of sensorial bombardment is upon us. At Monash University's graduate exhibition, artists Paris McBride and Erin Hallyburton present an unlikely pairing of scent and materiality, drawing on our sense of smell in contrasting ways.
McBride's installation Garden afloat–perfume of a shadow (2021) hovers in a dimly lit gallery space. A large wooden frame sits on a set of barely visible timber bolsters. The dimensions are reminiscent of a grave plot. Within the frame are delicate drawings of springtime flora on translucent mulberry fibre paper. They are layered in a way that the opaqueness of the paper allows a subtle glimpse of the drawings underneath. The work is a fertile site: one in which the artist's work requires tenderness and tending to, just like a garden.
Four of these delicate illustrations are suspended from beams of cherry wood, with their movement responding to those who walk past. Hanging above each corner of the frame are sets of two test tubes of distilled plant oils. The scents are in considered pairings of magnolia and hinoki, grapefruit and cedar and shadow and vita. I can barely make out the inscription on the copper bands wrapped around each glass tube; my eyes squint and I realise that what I was seeing was a place of delicacy and strength.
The work's title—garden afloat–perfume of a shadow—posits an impossible contradiction. The garden, a place of deep roots and heavy ground, is buoyant. The shadow, a dark trace of an object left by light, is conjured not by its silhouette but by its scent.
McBride is not interested in a strictly didactic reading. Instead, she offers us a poetic interpretation of perception. She distils oils as she distils time. She crystallises the softness of a flower in the grain of a plank of cherrywood. Life and death are evoked in the cycle of the seasons, and our sense of smell is summoned.
But the fertile is not just borne out of the ethereal. Drawn in by the heavy scent of cheese and oil, it is the wall label of the work by Honours graduate Erin Hallyburton that first catches my eye. It reads: “Greasy paper torn open with eager hands, salt licked, fingers sucked, 2021”. There is a tactility that appeals to me. The description continues: “Handmade waste oil soap, steel rod, earthenware clay, vegetable shortening, tallow, sunflower oil drums, marine plywood, cheddar cheese. Dimensions variable”. Cheddar cheese. That's what I could smell from the door. A strange, alluring scent. This unusual list of materials makes up tubes of fish and chip scented soap, a scrap pile of solidified oil waste, three short benches propped upon used cans of sunflower oil, and eight blocks of cheddar cheese in various states of decomposition. Hallyburton extends the confines of the body beyond flesh and bone. The scent of the materials she uses is a primordial pull towards fat and oil, playing to our genetic disposition to stock up and hibernate. Making a sculptural material out of waste products, she has created her own medium. Her vocabulary speaks a new, bold language of its own.
After two years of the sensory deprivation tank of art viewing (online exhibitions have never quite clicked with me as much as they should), it is truly invigorating to see scent being explored. It is a sense that demands more attention, time and research. Both McBride and Hallyburton utilise this in their installations, though to rather contrary means.
Nic Trifiletti is a recent graduate of Bachelor of Fine Arts at Monash University.