Lyn Balzer and Tony Perkins are a Sydney-based photography and designer/maker duo with an international sensibility, whose works are nevertheless deeply rooted in Australia. Their new exhibition at Sydney’s Australian Design Centre, called Scented Intoxication, features works made from a range of materials in two simple colours: black and white. But it is scent that is the most extraordinary feature of this exhibition.
When you enter the exhibition space, it hits you right away, a beautiful, heady perfume that is not sweet or perfume-like in the traditional sense, but is reminiscent of burnt wood or native Australian vegetation or both. Lyn and Tony worked with French-born Australian-based Elise Pioch Balzac of Maison Balzac to create two scents for two scented candles: L’Obscurite (darkness) is a black candle with a scent inspired by one of Lyn and Tony’s photographs of a sea cave in Kiama NSW. Elise interpreted the image in a scent inspired by volcanic rocks using tree resin, birch tar and red cedar. The other scent is L’Etrangete (strangeness), a white candle with a scent inspired by another photograph by Lyn and Tony, this time of a waterfall in a lush rainforest. Elise interpreted this image of sunlight in greenery as a scent with lemon myrtle, native ginger and hemp.
Photograph that inspired L’Obscurite. Photo: Lyn and Tony
These scents were the starting point of the exhibition and informed much of the work, with the wax of the candle used in many pieces and others infused with the perfume, an effect that works particularly well in the leather jewellery pieces that give off a perfume as you wear them. It also informed the decision to keep this collection in black and white. “The two scents are about duality – black of rock and white of light shining through trees,” says Tony. “Because we had this element of scent in the show, we wanted to strip [the colours] back to something that is more focused.”
The range of works includes marble tables (using offcuts that are normally discarded), woven objects including LED lamps and pendants, burnt timber pieces, photographs printed at a small scale and made into objects through the use of large frames, stretched salvaged calf leather and wax canvases, jewellery made of leather and stone. Often materials are damaged or imperfect, but Lyn and Tony like to use what they term “binnable” materials, creating a second life for offcuts and rejects.
The largest piece in the room is a made of leather offcuts, woven into a three-dimensional hanging in black, infused with perfume. Also in black, one piece is just the rag Tony used over three days to polish the marble tables, dipped in black wax. Another is a piece of jewellery made from string, knotted hundreds, maybe thousands of times and dipped in wax – the effect is like coral, built of one-cell organisms, or in this case single knots, combined to create a complex object.
For Lyn and Tony, the materiality is vital, with a supplier and story attached to each, such as the miners who provide the gems and rocks they use in their work or the kangaroo skins that were sourced ethically from kangaroo culls. “This show is about materials and exploring the textures in materials,” explains Lyn. “We’re obsessed with rock – can you tell?” she laughs.
Scented Intoxication is a concept exhibition, with an overall theme, look and even scent, perhaps an influence of Lyn and Tony’s fashion photography background. The result is a unified approach to object which creates a narrative effect and is instantly appealing. But the real achievement here is an exhibition that is completely Australian, without becoming kitsch, touristy or straying into the territory of Australiana.
Lyn tells the story: “It took us travelling and coming back to make us realise about our Australian landscape. We were doing work with international clients like Georg Jensen, running through these quintessential Scandinavian forests that we thought were incredible, and we realised when we came back that our colours and our textures are what really make our visual environment interesting.”
Tony adds: “We were doing a photo shoot in Byron Bay for a New York magazine with images and artists selected by Bill Henson and when we sent the photos to the editor he couldn’t believe they were real trees – he thought we’d made it all. We had the realization that Australia is alien to the rest of the world.”
And it’s true – Australia is very exotic. Lyn and Tony have capitalised on this, creating a truly Australian exhibition without a stuffed koala in sight. This is the kind of Australian design we need to be sharing on the world stage.
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