The Triennial is a curious thing. NGV staff, usually tasked with keeping people a safe distance from the priceless works of art, are instead approaching people and telling them they can actually touch this one. It’s okay. You’re supposed to. Smell this sculpture. Deface this installation. Lean right in and listen.
This is art to engage your whole body. Here’s how to give your senses a workout before this unprecedented exhibition closes in April.
Touch: Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama’s works are highlights wherever they appear. The iconic Japanese artist’s otherworldly room-sized installations, often patterned with endless dots, attract huge numbers. Her Triennial piece Flower obsession takes it to another level. Kusama invites visitors to gradually annihilate a spacious, Ikea-adorned apartment with stickers of flowers, one by one. Inspired by the hallucinations that Kusama has experienced since childhood, the space has already been transformed from a minimalist residential space to a chaotic burst of colour. And unlike so much art, this one is meant for touch.
Smell: Sissel Tolaas
In a corridor just past the crowds of Kusama’s apartment, keep an eye (and nose) out for Sissel Tolaas’s extraordinary work SmellScape: Melbourne_PastPresentPast. These minimal white sculptures look unobtrusive enough, but scratch the surface (yes, I mean literally) and each emits a smell inspired by Melbourne and Kulin land back through the centuries. Norwegian-born Tolaas has a background in chemistry and this work is part of her decades-long investigation into scent. Some will hit you immediately, like the earth after a fire, or a wet animal. Some are abstract, and based on historical reconstructions. There is very little context around each, so it’s up to you to make your own connections and narratives.
See: Einat Amir
There’s obviously plenty to see in an art gallery. So take your pick, really. But we’re particularly into Einat Amir’s installation Coming Soon Near You, which invites you to look at people looking. In the middle of one of the NGV’s bigger galleries, there’s a couch set up with a TV, a coffee table and some snacks. Audiences are invited to bring their own DVD or VHS and make themselves at home: to become part of a living artwork. Amir turns this most mundane of rituals into a public spectacle. You need to book if you want a spot on the couch with your entertainment of choice. But if you just want to observe, and experience the absurd sensation of watching people watching something else, turn up any time.
Hear: Shilpa Gupta
In a dark enclave in the bowels of the NGV, an enormous obsidian object hangs from the ceiling. It resembles a huge black beehive. On closer inspection, it’s made from hundreds of microphones, all pointing outward. This piece is one of a number of works in the Triennial that addresses borders and human movement across them, but on a more basic level it’s about sound and voices. The darkness lets you focus on the soundscape coming out of the sculpture: synthesised choral singing; robotic voices; the ocean; piano – all drifting in and out like a tide, all rattling around behind the shell of microphones, as if trapped.