The Wollemi Kirlians 2014

The following is a text written for the Kuandu Biennale extracted from a longer essay written by curator  Jasmin Stephens


David Haines is presenting an installation comprising a suite of images using the technique of Kirlian photography and a fragrance he composed in his Aroma Studio. In his sculptural assembly, Wollemi Kirlians (2014) and Slow Fast Mountains (earth aroma laboratory)(2014), Haines has configured the visual and olfactory elements to set up a recognition system intended to bring Biennale visitors into closer proximity to ‘unseen forces’ that lie within and around us. Haines’ installation exemplifies the tension between ‘the fictive and the phenomenal’ that lies at the heart of his enquiries. He is drawn to the ghostly qualities of Kirlian photography, a technique for creating contact prints by charging the air around an object, pioneered by Russian electrical engineer Semyon Kirlian and his wife Valentina in the mid-twentieth century. Haines’ photographs are of plants from the Wollemi Wilderness, a remote and mysterious region, that shelters the elusive Wollemi Pine, a species known only through fossil records until it was discovered in 1994. The photographs, with their connection to ‘spirit photography’, and the fragrance, which is suggestive of the damp earthy smell thrown up by the rain, are intended to evoke a range of associations – fantastical and grounded.Haines embraces his inability to contain the ‘live’ nature of his works. Fragrances, for example, are thermodynamic in their emanations, heading towards equilibrium in any environment and subject to entropy which is why they are refrigerated and stored in coloured glass to protect them from heat and light. Their ephemeral tendencies raise questions about where they start and finish. As they lodge in the mind as much as the body, any thoughts about ‘what’s inside and outside’ become out-moded and a re-organising of ‘space’ as a continuum within and beyond ourselves is required. For the Kuandu Biennale, Haines has arranged the installation so that there are many images and one smell. The asymmetrical layout is intended to loosen the correlation between what is seen and smelt and what is real and artificial. Visitors are able to ‘register’ the aroma in any number or combination of plants. Haines has not pursued an efficient linear flow between the installation components and viewers/smellers. Energies – physical and symbolic – that derive from the materiality of the works and the wealth of interpretations that surround their display, are mixed and re-transmitted in real-time in the gallery. Haines has a sustained commitment to not only the visible but also the audible and ‘smell-ible’ aspects of the frequency spectrum. The frequency spectrum is the system by which different types of energy generated by the fluctuations of the earth’s magnetic and electrical force fields are classified. Frequencies of molecular spin can be discerned as scent with the most notable example being ozone which is the smell before a thunderstorm due to burning ions.Haines regards these energy systems as integral to his processes and materials. In aligning himself with the them, he has asserted, ‘we are transmitters because in a bodily fashion, the receptors of our senses are highly attuned to sections of the spectrum and are converting energies into sensation .... the sensation field isa tuned system.’1/Abstracted from Jasmin STEPHENS’ essay



1. Email conversation with the artist, 6 June 2014 Haines has worked with Sydney-based independent curator Jasmin Stephens and has been supported by Arts NSW, Asialink and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, where Haines’ Aroma Studio is located. Jasmin Stephenshas also been supported by Asialink.