smell and art

I have always been fascinated by smell, and ever since I was 14 or something I started to realise that one of my strange behaviours was that I liked to smell stuff. My favourite smell at that time (and even until now) are (among others): the pages of Wordsworth classic novels, warm video (VHS) tapes, and varnished furnitures. And so after more than a decade later, I was excited that there was a course from Art Science program which I could enrol had this following title: Smell and Art. The course ran for a mere 3 weeks, but it was 3 days a week so I received a lot of knowledge (and enlightenment) about the nice world of smell. The teacher, Maki Ueda is a Japanese artist who currently lives in Rotterdam. She started to explore olfactory art in 2004 when she was pregnant and she got really sensitive to smell. She visited Indonesia once to exhibit her work (not an olfactory art yet, thou) and there (in Bandung to be exact) she learnt that the warm temperature and humidity of the archipelago produced a lot of smell because the particles of the objects vapoured easily in that kind of climate.

During the course we were taught to extract smell and preserve it either using oil or alcohol (we used vodka). We also learnt to make incense and how to use them like in a Japanese tea party (kodo). I didn’t really have much time to blog at that time (the couse was in February, so that means 3 months ago), but luckily Maki kept a blog for the course (in which all the students could contribute) here.

the filtering process

smell bottles

making incense

For the final assignment, we were asked to make a smell game. At first it was quite difficult for me to develop a game in the scope of a sense of smell. Frankly I am a really visual person, and it is really difficult to express myself in other forms of art. But anyway, during a brief brainstorming with Maarten I suddenly got the idea of making this sort of a tracking game, with various smells from Indonesian traditional market.

The game was quite simple, despite my high persistance in making (extracting) not less than 16 smells.

So I laid down 16 different smells in 16 identical brown bottles (so that people wouldn’t be able to see the colour of the liquid), each accompanied by a card with a question which the player have to guess what smell it was and follow the instruction on the card. If the player answered correctly, s/he will be ‘guided’ to the right track. If the player reaches his/her destination, s/he would be rewarded with a nice smell (I used the smell of soto ayam, a really tasty indonesian dish). However, if the player reached the wrong destination, s/he had to smell some really awful smells.

the layout for my smell project

the presentation – follow your sense of smell

Other students from the course also made really interesting projects.

Ivan made a stereo smell, combining smell of a tropical plant with Dutch woods smell, creating an inbetween world so-called the tropenbos.

Pablo and Juan made a guessing game which combine smell and sound from every departments in the art academy.

James made a memory game with 9 different smells, using teabags.

Yerry made a matching game, where the player has to match the smell and the character of the people in the photos. One was a sailor, one was a French guy, and one a mediterranean woman (if i’m not mistaken).

Willem made an incense kit, a small pack containing mini incense and a mini match to light it.

Jelle made a smell guessing competition, where players had to guess what smell it was.

The presentation itself was ‘combined’ with meta media presentation, so it really was a nice day full of art presentation 🙂

more photos of this really nice course can be found here and the presentation here.

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