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the olfactory arts
December 23, 2013 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Is perfume art? Could it be? Or is it something else: a craft, a commercial product, an ornament, a luxury, a prosthetic, an aphrodisiac, a love letter, a prayer, a con? Why does it matter?

The olfactory arts have intersected with various disciplines of art since at least Sadakichi Hartmann's failed "public scent concert" A Trip to Japan in Sixteen Minutes in 1902, and more successfully in the Fluxus movement through work by Takako Saito, Allison Knowles, and Ben Patterson. This intersection is now gaining a lot of current interest amongst perfume enthusiasts and contemporary artists alike, including the creation of specific magazines and blogs dedicated to exploring scent and perfumery through artistic and aesthetic lenses.

One of the biggest events melding the worlds of perfumery and art was MAD Museum's The Art of Scent exhibition in 2012-2013, curated by scent critic and journalist Chandler Burr. This event prompted analysis and reviews of the experience of the museum exhibit and Burr's language in perfume criticism, especially using the frameworks of major art movements.

Contemporary artists such as Maki Ueda, Sissel Tolaas, Christophe Laudamiel, and Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik center the use of scent in their work, while perfumers such as Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Brent Leonesio, and The Institute of Art and Olfaction actively collaborate with artists to provide an olfactory dimension to their work.

Some projects involving the olfactory arts include:

* Christophe Laudamiel's Green Aria, a "scent opera" pairing classical music with fragrance
* Maki Ueda's interactive deconstruction of the iconic Chanel No. 5 as part of V2_'s Test_Lab
* Maria Loboda’s recreation of an early 20th century smoking room and garden complete with accompanying fragrance
* Samples of the scents of Martynka Wawrzyniak's sweat, tears, and hair
* Eduardo Kac's Aromapoetry, a poetry book written exclusively with scent
* Olfactory maps of Berlin by Sissel Tolaas and New York by Katherine Harmon (make your own!).
* A collaboration between Brent Leonesio and Austin young subverting the tropes of perfume advertising, including concepts of beauty, glamour, and luxury, through rethinking the design of the scent, packaging, and marketing campaign
* Brian Goeltzenleuchter's Sillage, involving fragrances corresponding to the zipcodes of museum patrons
* The scent of Facebook, created by IAO in collaboration with Marcos Lutyens's Social pharmakon, exploring interpersonal communication through social media

(thank you ask mefi for all the great links that sparked this post!)
posted by divabat (30 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Soundtrack for the thread
posted by pxe2000 at 7:37 AM on December 23, 2013


The Sephora Scentsorium is a recent project - went to a cool presentation about how they prototyped and did the experience design for this.
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


For me, my passion for scent is not so much as revering it as an art form, as I do for a cultural force.

Perfumery has been with humankind as long as we've walked upright and it occupies just as seminal a place as any cave painting, opera, or written text. The Egyptians thought they could curry favor with the Gods of the Afterlife using it, just for starters.

I believe that perfume also changes one's consciousness of the world in the same way that traditional art forms can: you attend a museum show on Modern Art, and suddenly you're out in the daylight and seeing new juxtapositions everywhere: a Stop sign becomes a piece of jewelry, or you start noticing the severity of the lines on a building's frame.

You attend an opera, or a jazz show, symphony, what-have-you, and suddenly you can understand intuitively what "swing time" means or how the horn section is the backbone of a song. Perfumery is similar: you begin to understand how heart notes carry a fragrance, or how the "arc' of a scent hangs together over time.

Your mind will create new analogies and new synaptic pathways to understanding the world and your place in it through perfumery just as in being exposed to currently accepted modes of art.

Perfumery is like a wearable song. Or a personal self-portrait you commissioned that you hang on yourself rather than a wall in your home.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:54 AM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Perfumery is like a wearable song

...playing full blast form a boom box that you carry around with you everywhere you go, uncaringly imposing itself on everyone around you.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:18 AM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hey Sys Req - not always true. People who know how to wear perfume don't do this. Sorry if someone you bumped into didn't.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


People who know how to wear perfume don't do this. Sorry if someone you bumped into didn't.

It only takes one eye-burningly stunk-up person to ruin everything, and every bus, train car, and elevator has five.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:25 AM on December 23, 2013


No.
Good perfume does not play full blast from a boom box.
I think you are confusing Perfume with Scent.
Good Perfume is subtle. Good perfume is something you notice after she has walked by, leaving just a hint of allure.
The art of perfumery is not to assault the senses but gently infuse that ''je ne sais quoi''.
"Smell is a word, perfume is literature."
Here are some more Perfume quotes.
posted by adamvasco at 8:29 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: it only takes one eye-burningly stunk-up person to ruin everything.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:48 AM on December 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Good perfume and it's use can be sublime.

Mostly though it is to art what Cristo's surrounded islands are. Some people like it, but good lord almighty does it ever offend my senses.

And, unfortunately, for every one person who wears it well there are a dozen who... really need a shower.
posted by edgeways at 9:00 AM on December 23, 2013


In my high school aesthetics class, questions about taste and smell as art forms are usually posed. Perfume is the obvious culprit in the smell department. The Brooklyn I Hate Perfume store (from which I have purchased a beautiful essence of dirt and humus) makes perfumery an art, although aside from SOME of their stuff, every perfume smells like, well, perfume to me. Not art. Of course, my sense of smell is not as well-tuned as is my ear, my eye, or my appreciation for a well-turned phrase.

In the last few art installations I did (in the 80's) there was usually a subtle olfactory element involved, often a mixture of household cleaners and something decaying over the three-week run. A little music and smell went a long way in enhancing the room-memory feel I tried to evoke.

There are neurological arguments involving art's complexity - and our ability to remember a series in sound/vision/language - that argue against olfactory art as complex as a novel or even a song.
posted by kozad at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2013


The Brooklyn I Hate Perfume store (from which I have purchased a beautiful essence of dirt and humus) makes perfumery an art, although aside from SOME of their stuff, every perfume smells like, well, perfume to me.

Came in to plug CB I Hate Perfume; was not disappointed I was beaten to it. Each scent is like a novel, more than a song. I'm consistently amazed at how good Christopher Brosius is at evoking memories.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:47 AM on December 23, 2013


Is there a list of things that are only noticed when they are done poorly? There's perfume, obvs, and movie soundtracks come to mind too. Any others?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:20 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Goalkeeping.
posted by cromagnon at 10:26 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Plastic surgery
posted by The Whelk at 10:48 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


there a list of things that are only noticed when they are done poorly?

quartermaster duties.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:53 AM on December 23, 2013


Came here for a version of Remembrance of Things Past translated into perfumes.
posted by sammyo at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013


There was a line a while back that made you smell exactly like whatever delicious baked good was on the bottle - not "a perfume that smells like cookies" but it literally smelt like you just carried in a freshly baked tray of cookies. I was partial to Moist Chocolate Cake.

I'm sure madeleines would be easy.
posted by The Whelk at 11:08 AM on December 23, 2013



Sammyo - you should get yourself a bottle of L'artisan Parfumeur's Bois Farine, then.

Smells strongly like a cookie, or even cereal. Perfect for those craving a madeleine-like biscuity goodness in their memory.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:20 AM on December 23, 2013


In case you were concerned that a scent that express the cosmic horror of the unknown and unknowable and humanity's insignificant place in the universe wasn't available... I have good news!
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:56 AM on December 23, 2013


The Whelk, Demeter? I have a couple of those and while they do make you smell like the thing it says on the bottle, you do have to choose carefully. Smelling like brownies all day (a few hours really, they don't have much staying power) is not always good. More so for things like Dirt or Cannabis Flower. Most of them I've smelled work better as room sprays than perfume/cologne.

e: Lipstick Thespian Demeter's Madeleine
posted by angerbot at 12:35 PM on December 23, 2013


Anyone who loves perfume should do themselves a favor and watch Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire. And then, if you're indifferent to perfume but you love movies you should watch it too. That's the film that taught me the meaning of that wonderful word "sillage."

Alas, too many people who wear perfume do so in ways where the word "tsunami" might better describe the terrible path of olfactory destruction left in their wake.
posted by yoink at 1:06 PM on December 23, 2013


From the realm of fiction I'd recommend two non-stinky, smelly books; Patrick Süskind's Perfume (mentioned in the AskMe), and Tom Robbin's Jitterbug Perfume. Both are about the perfumer's art, but from almost polar opposite styles and perspectives. And they're both absolutely wild rides which you gladly endure in spite of being led by the nose. Plus they have lots of sex, and all of its attendant funks. These are fun books which mean nothing, but which you're unlikely to forget.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:44 PM on December 23, 2013


Alas, too many people who wear perfume do so in ways where the word "tsunami" might better describe the terrible path of olfactory destruction left in their wake.

New askMe: is there any polite and unobtrusive way to tell my wealthy, retired, erudite, fascinating, intelligent older female friend that she wears entirely too much perfume? Like knock-me-back-two-paces too much?
posted by telstar at 4:39 PM on December 23, 2013


Ah, this post brings back memories of my first IAO event, where I met a couple of the artists mentioned in this post, all of whom admitted they knew nothing about fragrance and were basically just spraying perfume on their work to qualify for a fellowship. Eau de BS.
posted by acidic at 5:44 PM on December 23, 2013


acidic: What do you count as "knowing about fragrance"? The chemistry? The history? Who made what perfume where?

From what I can tell, it's only been fairly recently that perfume's been explored in this much detail within a wider sphere, so it's not surprising that knowledge about fragrance is still pretty much in infancy amongst people who don't work in the industry.
posted by divabat at 10:47 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


divabat: having an experienced, discerning and thoughtful nose. It's as if a chef couldn't tell the difference between ketchup and bolognese sauce.

And yeah, you're wrong that "knowledge about fragrance is still pretty much in infancy." The online perfume community consists of a couple hundred thousand people outside of the industry who trained their noses by spending hours at perfume counters, swapping hundreds of samples, and reading blogs and forums to learn from others.

I agree that perfume is art, but I'd rather enjoy the artistry and development of a thoughtfully composed fragrance than sniff a couple random notes in conjunction with a gallery exhibition or performance piece.
posted by acidic at 1:08 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Telstar: the best way I've found to educate people on how much perfume to wear in public is to literally show them how to wear it. You can make up whatever cockamamie story you have to about why that won't hurt their feelings (i.e. the "heart notes carry the fragrance better when you don't spray as much" or what-have-you.)

Perfume shouldn't be shellacked onto your skin like mascara or shrouding your body like you just took a Chanel shower or whatever. It's something you should step into, and be lightly applied. A light touch is the best method, and maybe spraying the scent in the space immediately in front of you and then walking into it and allowing it to settle on your skin is best.

I hear you, though - bad perfume is like those knuckleheads on the subway who blast music out of their earbuds and the fine folks who have too much to drink and caterwaul their way out of the bars at night.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:37 AM on December 24, 2013


If perfume is art, then so is farting.
posted by Renoroc at 2:08 PM on December 24, 2013


Because they smell of Roses no doubt.
posted by adamvasco at 2:24 PM on December 24, 2013


> If perfume is art, then so is farting.

Mais bien sûr!
posted by benito.strauss at 3:16 PM on December 24, 2013


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