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Audio descriptive introduction to Mikala Dwyer: The silverings

Listen to or read an audio descriptive introduction to The silverings by Mikala Dwyer.

The artwork is a massive drifting sculpture installed at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, from 21 May to 18 September 2022. 

The silverings is a free exhibition to attend in person.

You can listen to the audio description recordings in the gallery using your own device and headset. There’s a QR code and url at the entrance that will both link you to this page.

You can download the transcript from this page.

The four tracks are:

Track one – 4:23 minutes
Introducing the Threshold gallery, and the work with its label text.

Track two – 1:42 minutes
Describing the work from below, on level four.

Track three – 3:53  minutes
Our curator talks about how the work was installed in the gallery.

Track four – 1:30 minutes
Describing the work from above, from the bridge on level five.

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Audio descriptions

Transcripts

Track one: Introducing the Threshold gallery, and the work with its label text.

Welcome to this audio descriptive introduction to The silverings by Mikala Dwyer. This artwork is a massive floating sculpture installed at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, from 21 May to 18 September 2022.

I’m Hanahiva Rose, an assistant curator in Te Papa’s Art team, and I’m Judith Jones, an audio describer here at Te Papa.

This audio description has four tracks. In this first track, we introduce The silverings in the Threshold gallery, and read the wall label.

Track two will describe the work as we encounter it on level four, from the gallery entrance near the main lifts. In track three, Hanahiva will talk about how the work was installed. And for track four, we go up to the level five bridge, and describe the work as it floats alongside us.

The silverings is a dynamic and energetic artwork. The work is site-specific, created for visitors to experience in this space for this moment in time.

It is made up of more than 400 zero-shaped silver foil balloons inflated with helium, lifting two huge silver sheets into softly curved forms that drift high above the gallery floor. The sheets are suspended below their flocks of balloons, one to the right and one to the left as we enter the Threshold gallery.

The sheets and balloons hover, shine and shimmer across our gallery airspace, reflecting the bright lights from above. They float on high like silver toys bobbing on silver bathwater.

The taut oval balloons are each 102cm high, their inflated sides encircling a central zero, or O, shape. They are large enough to feel unwieldy when you hold them.

Together, they’re like a bustling crowd, at one time they can seem all the same, but each is different too. They rise from different parts of the sheet below, attached with varied lengths of silver ribbon. They turn around on their ribbon tethers, they can face in each and every direction.

The corners of the silver sheets are attached with cords to anchor weights, some found here at Te Papa. As you enter on level four, be aware that six of these are set across the gallery floor, with thin orange nylon cords attaching up diagonally to the corners of the silver sheets

The Threshold gallery

The Threshold gallery spans the space between the floor of level four and the industrial pipes and fittings that run along under the two-storey roof height of level five. The white painted walls that surround it are just over seven metres high.

The brown wooden floor is 13 metres long and about 24 metres across. The whole open gallery space is around 2,300 cubic metres – the same in cubic measurement as 15,000 bathtubs. It's about 30,000,000 times as big as a chicken egg.

We can walk across the gallery floor from the entrance by the lifts on level four, to the stairway up to level five on the left, or straight ahead to more gallery spaces.

A glass-sided bridge, suspended from above, cuts through the Threshold gallery at about four metres above us, taking visitors to and from the level five lifts and Toi | Art galleries.

The exhibition label

The exhibition label is on the wall on the left just as we enter the Threshold gallery on level four. The work’s title is in large silver capital letters: The silverings 2022. The label reads:

Mikala Dwyer born 1959, Australia
Mylar foil, foil balloons, helium, anchor weights
Commissioned 2022

Australian artist Mikala Dwyer sculpts what we cannot see. She uses silver balloons to trap helium, a gas created in the Big Bang.

Zero is a number that usually describes absence – but here, it is an energising presence. The zero-shaped balloons change as helium escapes, and the sculpture gradually descends. The silverings invites us to consider the everyday forces – seen and unseen – that shape us.

The silverings is part of Te Papa’s permanent collection.

Track two: Describing The silverings from below, on level four.

As we walk across the gallery floor, we may hear the balloons bump and rustle together as the air around them shifts, causing the wide silver sheets to gently flex and sometimes softly crinkle. Our arrival may cause some of these eddies.

We can walk around the anchor lines, to be right underneath the foil sheets.

Each has been sculpted into a curved dome-ish shape, almost like a softly cupped hand above us. The pull of the buoyant balloons above counter-balances the downward drag of the anchors at each corner. The once-smooth sheet is gently crinkled like it’s just come off a slept-in bed, the balloons tug their ribbons upwards forming irregular peaks scattered across the surface.

The sheets are made from Mylar foil, a type of reflective polyester film. It’s a lot thinner than household silver foil, only 0.002 cm thick. It’s more flexible than household foil, with something more like the physical nature of a light plastic bag, you can crumple it, but it won’t hold that shape tightly when you let go.

The spotlights on the roof, and the sheeny shapes of the balloons show faintly through the thin foil. The undersides of the sheets reflect the soft brown of the floor, and here and there shapes and colours of those of us below show too.

The sheets are held in place by an anchor weight attached to each corner by an orange cord, steadying the triangular points some around two metres above the floor. The silver zeros seem to float down to the corner edges like a cascade of silver bubbles.

Hanahiva tells us about the weights in the next track, as she describes the components and installation of The silverings.

Track three: Our curator talks about how the work was installed in the gallery

How the work was installed in the gallery

As curator, I spent time with this work as it came to life in our gallery space. The artist could not be here herself and instead sent two of her studio team to help our Te Papa installers. Mikala was, however, often present by video call throughout the process, as the work took shape.

First, the team unrolled narrow silver Mylar strips and taped them together, making two eight by 8.4 metre sheets, the platforms for the balloons to be tied to. They laid these flat across the floor, and weighted them down. They stuck tethering loops of ribbon across each sheet – creating myriad anchor points for the thin silver ribbons that hold the balloons.

Then the balloons were filled with helium, which is lighter than air. The inflated sides around the central oval opening, when full, are quite taut, and too rounded for me to reach my outstretched hands around.

The filled balloons were tied to pieces of silver ribbon, 30, 50, or 70cm long, which were fixed to the tethering loops, 200 at random intervals across each sheet.

Each foil sheet was attached by light cords to four anchors, one at each corner. Then the balloons were allowed to rise, lifting the sheets off the floor, sculpting each into a soft curve, with the weights mooring each corner at around adult head high above the ground.

The artist decided on what these anchors would be, as she got to know the feel of our Te Papa Threshold space and began to see the work take shape.

As we enter the gallery from near the lifts, the two closest central anchors, one on either side, are four oblong slabs of clay wrapped in plastic, piled on top of each other. They’re about 38cm high, 43cm long and 30cm wide. Each slab contains 20kg of clay. Cord is wrapped around the second packet down, and runs diagonally upwards from each pile to attach to an angled corner of each sheet.

The anchors for the other central corners, along the floor about eight metres ahead of us, are wide-mouthed, light plastic buckets, with handles on top. The one on our left is blue, and holds two short lengths of solid galvanized metal tube. Their weight stretches the sides of the bucket out.

The second bucket, on our right, is orange. It has the word ‘dust’ on two sides in black capital letters. Inside, there are five upright books. One’s cover shows a photo of a large egg, and the title 100 Natural History Treasures of Te Papa.

The outer corners diagonally opposite us on either side, are each anchored by a cord tied to the handle of a large, blue water bottle, the sort used in a water cooler. They’re about 45cm high, and unopened, with blue lids. Each bottle contains 15 litres of water.

The fourth corner of each sheet, out to our right and left near the gallery walls, is held in place by an anchor that dangles down from it. A clear, firm plastic container, sculpted by the artist, holds a jade plant, with oval green leaves. Each plant is about as big as an adult’s hand, growing in a cup or so of dark soil. A cord up to the wall from the corner, holds the plant steady. Jade plants, the artist’s choice, are hardy succulents that need little light and minimal water. The Mylar sheets are so light, that even adding a little water to the plants will influence the shape of the whole work.

Track four: Describing the work from above, on the bridge across level five

The highest balloons almost reach the industrial fittings below the roof. Others float alongside us as we stand on the bridge between the two gleaming forms.

Light bounces off the silver zeros as they bob and turn on their ribbons, their empty central shapes act like little oval windows, revealing other balloons and the white walls around them. Reflections of the walls, and colours and shapes of people on the bridge show here and there across the balloon surfaces.

Because of the organic nature of helium and how it slowly drains from each balloon, how upright they are and how taut their silver-skinned ovals are, changes over time.  Here and there, some balloons may droop, tumbling against their neighbours. Softening their tug on the sheets below.

As the museum air shifts, a little cluster of shining zeros will move, knocking into nearby balloons. They make soft bumping noises as they nudge and nuzzle against their neighbours, who respond with their own shifts that send a shiver across the sheets below.

The sheets ripple, the silver zeros jostle, then settle back floating upright, their ribbons taut as the helium inside holds them aloft.

The silverings is part of Te Papa’s permanent collection. The Mylar used in the artwork will be recycled by a specialist recycling facility when the installation closes.

This audio description, capturing something of the visitor experience with the work in the gallery, will be part of the Collection record.