Heather Milne

Garden of Sensory Exchange

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, Dr Jo Burzynska 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. Garden of Sensory Exchange responds to this year‘s theme of Sweat Equity through its interrogation of dominant modes of perception, in particular the enlightenment adage that seeing is believing, which has often been used to undermine traditional and indigenous ways of being in the world. The installation amplifies sounds present at the site, 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. Please take an instruction sheet for details on how to play. In addition to the work on view here, Dr Burzynska 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.

Taonga pūoro played by Jake Kīanō Skinner (Ngāti Rangitihi). Additional recordings provided by the Department of Conservation, Dr Brian Lloyd and Dr David Bradley. We acknowledge the Waitaha and Kai Tahu people and their land on which this work was created.

Dr Jo Burzynska will be hosting interactive guided experiences of her artwork in the Botanic Gardens on the following Saturdays: 19 November, 3 & 17 December, 14 & 28 January between 2pm and 3pm. Jo will lead you through her Garden of Sensory Exchange, inviting you to smell fragrant plants, listen to various sounds, and make connections between them.

A game for two players or groups

Our senses are always working together, often in surprising ways. In this Garden of Sensory Exchange you can smell an array of scents from flowers and foliage. Walk under the pergola and you might hear the high-pitched screech of a bat, the bright call of a bird, or low rasp of a wētā. Could one of these sounds be used to suggest a plant’s scent in a way that might be communicated to another person?

You are invited to take part in a game of sensory exchange that can be played by two players or groups. One player matches a scent with a sound in the Fragrant Garden, and the other guesses the plant from the sound selected. Tune into sensory associations that are often overlooked in everyday experience, and discover how many we share.


• Player 1 & 2 smell the plants highlighted by signs throughout the Fragrant Garden – during this, Player 1 selects one without letting Player 2 know its identity.
• Player 1 & 2 walk under the pergola together and listen to the soundscape.
Player 1 intuitively chooses a sound they feel best matches their selected plant’s aroma, and describes this sound to Player 2.
• Player 2 tries to guess the plant selected by Player 1 by intuitively matching the chosen sound to one of the scents of the highlighted
plants. You might want to go back to smell some of these to refresh your memory.

Did you agree? Take it in turns to make the selections and guess the plant. How much accord is there in your sensory exchanges?

Explore the sounds:




Venue partners