Olfactory Art

Nobi Shioya, Seven Deadly Sins

Olfactory art is a term that is new to me this week.  Working for a scent company and keeping a close watch on the art world, I was surprise that I have never heard this term!  Upon finding scholarly article after scholarly article about this topic, I wonder, why has this art form remain hidden from me, and therefore the general public? Despite the manifestos published by the Futurists, the Surrealists, and other post-modern groups, calling for a wider integration of human experience into art, scent elude artists of their time.  Some critics in the past argued that scent remains on the “fringe of aesthetics,” and a “lower sense.”  Could we coin olfactory art as the new folk art, the quaint country cousin, not to be taken too seriously?

However, we have seen a shift in the view of olfactory art in the past decade  A handful of artists have worked in collaboration with well respected perfumers to create pieces containing a handful of scents. Two well known examples include; Helgard Haugs collaboration with Karl-Heinz Burk, titled “U-deur” where they distilled Haug’s memory of a Berlin subway station into a scent; and Nobi Shioya’s piece where she created and displayed the scents of the seven deadly sins.  Both of these pieces, received high critical acclaim. So why have more artists not flocked to this budding medium?
It is my opinion that the practical hurdles facing the implementation of scent into art intimidate most artists from this medium. The actual implementation of adding scent to art has been very difficult in the past.  Most artists soak their work in a smell.  This is not a long term solution and requires significant maintenance. Also, as other articles on this blog have discussed, the technical skill of creating a scent is extremely challenging because a smell is a collection of different scents.  For example, there is no one smell for strawberry, rather strawberry is the combination of multiple scents.  This requires an artist to have a background in scent creation or access to significant funding to work with a perfumer directly.

It is my hope that artists will recognize the opportunity of using the ScentScape to “Scent Enable” their work.  Artists will be able to choose one smell, or a selection of multiple smells.  With our amazing in house Chief Scent Officer, Jerry Bertrand, we will be able to work with artists in the future to create specific scents.  This will allow artists create their own visions of dreamily scented landscapes, or conversely to create visceral reaction to a powerful piece.  With the ScentScape, the possibilities and the complexities of olfactory art becomes accessible not only to the well funded artists but, to every artist.
What do you think?  What art pieces would you like to see “scent enabled”?
Are you an artist?  How would you scent enable your work?
The Aesthetics of Smelly Art. Larry Shiner and Yulia Kriskovets.  The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism , Vol. 65, No. 3 (Summer, 2007), pp. 273-286
Toposmia: Art, Scent, and Interrogations of Spatiality.  Jim Drobnick.  Angelaki .  Vol. 7, Iss. 1, 2002

2 thoughts on “Olfactory Art

  1. ScentScape will be the equivalent of a screen or player for smell. Is anyone working on a smell camera?

    There are some experimental chemical detectors, which seem to be limited to military and police use at the moment. Bomb detection, etc. I don’t think they’re widely or commercially available yet, but could be wrong.

    If an appropriate selection of these detectors were placed in a device with an inlet tube, they could provide a set of primary readings, which then might be translated into the primaries used by ScentScape.

    • Dear Polistra,
      I haven’t heard of these chemical detectors before. That is amazing and I want to look more into it! I’ll be sure to pass your insights on.


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