Smelly Art

This semester we’ve talked a lot about scent and the powerful role it can play on people. There have been some really great posts that I remember by John Panus and, most specifically, Laura Major about senses, in particular smell. Laura talked about it as one of the things that ‘brings people together’ and John talked about how intuitive and ‘trusting’ we may have to be when it comes to sense. I was reminded of these posts recently when I read an article in the New York Times titled “Art for the Knowing Nose.”

In the article the author, Douglas Quenqua, writes about ‘olfactory art’ – art which explicitly examines and (in some cases) exploits our sense of smell! I had never heard of such a thing. Because smell is so hard to set up and control for an art exhibit, Quenqua talks a lot about the challenges for artists who explore smell – how in the past artists such as Sadakichi Hartmann (not to be confused with the scholar we’ve discussed in class, Saidiya Hartman) have been booed off-stage for trying to experiment with smell as an art. Quenqua also talks a lot about one artist in particular, Peter De Cupere, whose artwork uses smell as a way to explore issues such as “environment, beauty, and climate” (NYT). This commentary reminded me a lot of Octavia Butler’s work, most relevant to John and Laura’s posts in  Fledgling; like Butler, Cupere’s work seems to explore how people respond to their environments and how various and incredible two people’s responses could be to something as invisible, as in the air, as a smell. For me this article was really revelatory because I had never thought about ‘olfactory art’ before. But having read this article, and thinking about it relation to Butler’s work, I would very interested in seeing – really though I guess it would be experiencing – olfactory art. If you’re interested in the article I’ll attach a link right here. I thought it was a fascinating piece.

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