Jo Burzynska was announced as the Premier Award at this year’s Zonta Ashburton Female Art Awards (ZAAFA) for the Mechanised Quarter audio-olfactory installation from her 2022 exhibition, What Might We Find When We Stop Looking? Jo was the overall winner out of 29 finalists, winning prize money and the invitation to present a solo show at the Ashburton Art Gallery in March 2024.
Mechanised Quarter was created using insights from a series of walks with members of the community exploring the city of Ōtautahi Christchurch using the non visual senses. It highlights the often overlooked sensory experiences of the city at a time of rebuilding after its devastating earthquakes. The sensory interplay between sound and scent encourages a nonvisual understanding of space and aims to foster alternative connections with urban environments.
“It was wonderful to receive this acknowledgment for my work,” Burzynska said, “As art is still so visually dominated, it was even more rewarding that a predominantly audio-olfactory work won this award. I hope this is indicative of the growing acceptance and celebration of art – and knowledge more generally – generated outside the visual realm.”
Images above: Jo with ZAAFA 2023 judges Lauren Gutsell, Kairauhī Curator at Dunedin Public Art Gallery; Professor Jane Venis, artist and academic; and Caroline McQuarrie, artist and Senior Lecturer in Photography at Whiti o Rehua School of Art Massey University (left) & interactions with the work at the ZAAFA 2023 exhibition (right).
Consisting of a sound installation and an interactive multisensory game, Garden of Sensory Exchange draws our attention to the elements of life that often escape our visual sensors. Based in the Fragrant Garden in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, the site specific work captures and amplifies some of the unseen networks of sensory communication within and between species, present and past: from sonic messages shared by organisms in the soil to the chemosensory signals sent by flowers and humans that generate life.
The sound installation, played from speakers set within the pergola, comprises recordings of human and more-than-human nonverbal sensory communication. This starts literally from the ground up, with recordings made using a geophone of the minute vibrations of organisms in the soil. The installation amplifies sounds present at the site such as the worms under the soil, as well as those – such as the song of the tūī and taonga pūoro – that have been largely lost to the area through colonising activities.
Garden of Sensory Exchange also features an interactive multisensory game, which requires visitors to engage in their own crossmodal sensory communication. Crossmodal correspondences are the sometimes-surprising associations people experience between stimuli encountered through different senses, for example the smell of citrus is widely matched with high pitches. The artist also worked with a number of schools in an education programme, where students made a range of scented objects to initiate their own games of sensory exchange.
Images commissioned by SCAPE Public Art. Further documentation about the installation and the SCAPE Public Art Season 2022 can be found here.
2022 Solo exhibition of mixed media multisensory installations The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora
What Might We Find When We Stop Looking? was the question navigated through passages across the colonial city of Ōtautahi Christchurch, New Zealand guided by the nonvisual senses. Using the original methodology of sensuous psychogeography, understandings and materials gathered on these often-playful pedestrian explorations were used to create interactive and overlapping multisensory installations. Made from recorded sounds, foraged wild foods, and materials gathered for their textures or distilled and blended for their aromas, the works could be heard, smelled, touched and tasted.
Initially presented as a solo exhibition at The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora – the site from which these multiple solo and participatory walks started – the personal, social, and political understandings grounded in the nonvisual sensory connections these walks disclosed, were used to reflect and remap the city, encouraging different connections with the urban environment.
The city of this exhibition is reimagined through a series of “quarters”, circled by the ambulant city soundscape, Ōtautahi Drifting, and with the Tactile Border on one perimeter for exploration blindfolded by hand. For example, Kahikatea Quarter is an audio-olfactory meditative immersion set in the city’s only remaining podocarp forest fragment; Empty Quarter an experimental tincture of gravel from one of the many corporate carparks on the city’s bare post-earthquake sites; while the final Nurturing Quarter – made in collaboration with forager, Peter Langlands and chef, Alex Davies – invites people to gather amongst sounds of human and animal feeding to share a tonic made from introduced and indigenous plants foraged from the city.
This project was undertaken during Te Matatiki Toi Ora’s 2021 Arts Four Creative Residency Programme supported by Creative New Zealand and Stout Trust, and proudly managed by Perpetual Guardian. Scented support from Fragrifert and use of the perfume studio at Fragranzi.
What kind of knowledge is disclosed when one navigates a city with the nonvisual senses? Developing the practice of sensuous psychogeography, I explored how these senses might spark different personal, social, and political resonances over multiple passages through Ōtautahi Christchurch, New Zealand. I hoped this would reveal what could otherwise remain literally overlooked in the regular patterns of experience in our visually dominated society.
Over three months I set out on multiple sense-focused walks in which the visual was subordinated to our other senses. This reversed the usual sensorial mode used to move around the city, and was guided by non visual cues that emerged. These could be an intriguing sound far away of close at hand, following a breeze, homing in on a smell, or – as in the walk led by forager, Peter Langlands – led by the wild foods growing in the city’s streets. I called this method, sensuous psychogeography.
Sensuous psychogeography is a new method of creative enquiry, and means of encouraging people to make different, and perhaps deeper connections with their local urban spaces. This draws on the Situationist idea of psychogeography. In his Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, Situationist, Guy Debord, defines psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals,” (Debord,1955). It was concerned with the urban environment’s psychological effects, challenging the capitalist system through creating actively lived situations to counteract passive image-dominated consumer culture. Sensuous psychogeography particularly embraces the Situationists’ critical walking practice, the dérive (drifting), a playful exploration of urban space that redirects pedestrians away from well-trodden paths to alter awareness of their environments.
Sensuous psychogeography also emerged from the creative research of my recent arts PhD. In this I investigated the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of sensory interactions and how these related to place, both imagined or real. For example in my Risonanze di Vino project, I investigated how the nonvisual senses of winemakers connected them to both their product and the land their grapes were grown on.
As an artist who previously made works responding to the changing environments of Christchurch during the destructive earthquakes over a decade ago and their aftermath, I sought to re-engage with the city’s current unique phase of urban transformation after recently returning from four years overseas. The city’s recent challenges have seen its inhabitants repeatedly forced to diverge from familiar paths due to natural and human disruptions, which resonates with psychogeographical techniques.
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has also seen residents living much of their lives on screens, some affected by a lingering unease about re-entering urban spaces. This makes a method that encourages such sensory immersion both challenging for some, but also liberating as articulated by a number of those who participated in walks with me.
These sensory excursions took many forms. Some were undertaken alone, sometimes gathering materials en route that I would then use to create the project’s final works. These ranged from the sounds that I recorded, fragrant plants I went on to distil, as well as textural objects, and included following the nonvisual elements of the Ōtākaro Avon River from the city to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean (pictured above). I drifted with individuals from the fields of urban ecology and planning, architecture, music and foraging. I also meandered with members of the public, local iwi and the blind and low vision community.
All the discoveries made were expressed through the project’s ultimate multisensory artworks that I created. These use interactive combinations of sound, olfaction, taste, and touch to answer the central question posed by the project, “What might we find when we stop looking?”, also the name of the exhibition which runs at The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, Christchurch, New Zealand between 18-29 May, 2022.
This project was undertaken during Te Matatiki Toi Ora’s 2021 Arts Four Creative Residency Programme between May-July 2021. It was, supported by Creative New Zealand and Stout Trust, and proudly managed by Perpetual Guardian. Scented support from Fragrifert and Fragranzi.
Risonanze di Vino:
Exploring the Sensory Terroir of Rural Italy
Editor: Jo Burzynska
Contributors: Jo Burzynska, Gaetano Carboni, Leandro Pisano
Publisher: Interferenze Book Series
Risonanze di Vino, a book documenting two of my wine and sound projects in Italy, has now been published as part of the Interferenze Book Series and is available to purchase here.
About Risonanze di Vino
Risonanze di Vino explores the multiple connections made through a series of artist residencies in rural Italy that unite the senses, culture, and nature, as framed within discussions of the Anthropocene. It documents the residencies – conducted as creative sensory research – through which the multisensory artist Jo Burzynska, identifies and tunes resonances between sound and wine through an interlaced sensuous system that she calls sensory terroir.
Credit: Daniela d’Arielli / Pollinaria
Organised by the Interferenze art research platform in the Irpinia and Sannio regions, and the Pollinaria agricultural residency programme in Abruzzo, the projects were oriented by the artist’s immersions in cultural and personal sensory experience within these agrarian environments. The residencies resulted in sense-focused artworks in which soundscapes – created from field recordings of the winegrowing environments – play in crossmodal harmony or conversation with the local wines.
The projects are contextualised within current discourse around the Anthropocene through the curatorial contributions from Interferenze’s Leandro Pisano and Pollinaria’s Gaetano Carboni. If the Anthropocene is a sensorial phenomenon, sound art could be well placed to expose symbiotic coexistences and initiate resonances that shift perceptions.