On the world stage: Dane Mitchell - Art Collector

Issue 55, January - March 2011

This profile appeared in the "On the world stage" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2011"

Life has been hectic for New Zealand artist Dane Mitchell since he completed an artist residency with Gasworks in London in 2008 and one in Berlin in 2009 as part of the prestigious DAAD Berliner Künstlerprogramm. The artist has continued to exhibit in Europe with major exhibitions in Art Cologne in 2010 and the Art Statements section of Art Basel in 2008 as well as a number of solo and group exhibitions in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Add to that his upcoming participation in the Singapore Biennale as well as three major solo shows in New Zealand and two group exhibitions in Australia in 2011, the artist is finding that maintaining a presence in multiple cities at one time is becoming increasingly feasible. “It is possible,” he says, “so long as you are prepared to lead a nomadic, flexible lifestyle!”

Mitchell creates projects and propositions that teeter on the edge of thresholds, revealing zones between one reality and another – between visibility and invisibility, between existing and not existing, knowing and not knowing, materiality and immateriality – to ultimately expand our limits of perception. Most recently the artist has been working with French perfumer Michel Roudnitska to develop unusual perfumes such as the smell of nothing – the smell of an imagined empty room. The molecules of these perfumes, or “thought objects” as Mitchell describes them, enter the brain and hence come to represent something concrete in ways never before imagined.

Testing the imaginative process has been evident for some time in Mitchell’s conceptual-based work. Early projects included the casting of spells and curses in gallery spaces, leaving people uncertain and uneasy about what it was they were experiencing. For his exhibition Conjuring Form, which was presented in the Art Statements section of Art Basel in 2008, he followed instructions from a spirit guide and called upon the spirit of the last person executed for witchcraft in Europe, Anna Göldi. As the artist has described, the spell works have been about grasping the invisible and moving our expectations into the unknown.

Mitchell’s Dust Archive, which began in 2002, has revealed many surprises about what exists unnoticed on museum windowsills and corners around the world. “Dust and Perfume both dwell on thresholds – of vision, of physicality, of affect, of time, of dimensionality,” he notes in his Table of Elements, a document which accompanied his project Minor Optics for both the DAAD Galerie in Berlin in 2009 and Art Cologne in 2010. Here, airborne dust was collected on a series of large aluminium plates equipped with an electric pulse which attracted dust particles to its jet black surface over the course of the exhibitions.

Taking this molecular collection further, Mitchell’s work at the Busan Biennale in 2010 was a series of satellite dishes and rare-earth magnets installed on a rooftop terrace. It dealt with the collection of the microscopic particles that fall to earth – space dust in other words. Some 40,000 tons of this near invisible matter fall to earth every year.

Mitchell credits the 2009 Berlin-based DAAD residency as making all the difference to him exhibiting in Europe. “It has an amazing reputation. People are aware of the program and understand its significance so it was really useful for making the transition into more international exposure. Doing the projects at Art Basel and Art Cologne also served to anchor my work in a context – people could begin to place me somehow. It used to be that people’s eyes would glaze over when you said you were from New Zealand – you would hit a wall. But now there are quite a number of Australasian artists working in Berlin, that helps. But when people can’t place you in terms of geography, it does mean that it becomes more about the connection to the work itself – people are very open to hearing about what you are doing.”

Mitchell’s work is hard to place in terms of its New Zealand-ness and so his practice translates well anywhere in the world – it raises ideas and generates conversations that can be wrapped into other places, histories and contemporary contexts with ease.

Sue Gardiner

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