Dhana Merritt: DM Teahouse

Make a delicious bowl of tea:
Lay out the wood charcoal to heat the water.
Arrange the flowers as they are in the fields.
In summer, evoke coolness; in winter, warmth.
Anticipate the time for everything.
Be prepared for rain.
Show the greatest attention to each of your guests.

Japanese tea master, Sen no Rikyū (1522–91)

In the 12th Century, Zen monk Eisai (1141–1215) introduced a philosophy of tea for health and recovery by linking the Five Organs and Five Tastes. Eisai noted that the liver prefers a sour taste, the lungs prefer a pungent taste, the heart prefers a bitter taste, the spleen prefers a sweet taste, and the kidneys prefer a salty taste. Eisai considered that the heart, as the most important organ for sustaining life, could be cared for by the bitter taste of a daily cup of tea. At DM teahouse, participants are welcomed to explore the benefits of drinking tea and to extend this enquiry into the effects of different types of tea on our moods and expressions.

The tea ceremony, not unlike most rituals, involves a performance on behalf of the host and their guests. In this instance, Dhana Merritt presents DM teahouse, a performance piece engaging both artist and spectator in the medicinal properties of tealeaves. This exhibition stems from Dhana’s current interest in the study of naturopathy combined with her experience of teahouses all over the world. Throughout her travels overseas Dhana encountered the ambience of many international teahouses and their inhabitants. In the city of Dalat, 1,500 metres above sea level, Dhana recalls tasting the smooth flavour of artichoke tea. In a Middle Eastern teahouse she experimented with the combination of drinking mint tea and smoking shisha. In Berlin in the rain, she entered a Russian teahouse and ordered a tea set with a shot of vodka and a spoonful of jam for her black tea. Each visit inspired thoughtful enquiry about the people who inhabit these spaces. DM teahouse is an investigation into what draws people to such minimal social environments. What is it they find themselves talking about day to day?

At DM teahouse, Dhana offers her audience a selection of three tea sets. Each tea set has been selected to stimulate different emotions, expressions, and conversation. One may notice heightened sensory perception, cheerfulness, calmness or warmth. Dhana’s first tea set inspires romance with elements of rose combined with damiana, which has its origins in Aztec culture as a type of aphrodisiac. Those who select the second tea set may feel restful and calm as a result of tasting passionflower, chamomile and Echinacea tea. The tea is then paired with lavender ice water and oat biscuits, whose carbohydrates work to increase serotonin levels, resulting in a calming effect. The third tea set is perhaps her most curious due to its capacity to cleanse the throat through the use of sage, licorice root, and cinnamon bark tea combined with peppermint infused ice cubes. Those who select the third tea set may find themselves increasingly aware of their articulation, accents of speech, and the speed at which they layer words. This creative project insists on focusing wholeheartedly on its audience. Sit, taste, and by all means speak your mind.

Written by Kate O’Connor

 Herbert Plutschow, Rediscovering Rikyu: And the Beginnings of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, Global Oriental: Kent (2003), 26.

From the exhibition ‘DM Teahouse’ by Dhana Merritt. Saturday February 13, 2016.
Essay courtesy of Cut Thumb ARI.