For the first 3 weeks of July I undertook a residency at Access Space, Sheffield entitled ‘Scents of Our Time’ which saw me utilise candle making to respond to the news events of the day.
The residency seeks to gauge whether an audience can engage with the concept of utilising candle making as a means of social and political commentary; subverting preconceptions of what candle making can be and placing it on a contemporary art platform.
I didn’t really know what to expect, both in terms of my approach to responding to the news through scent design or with regard to audience engagement, but I did feel rather buoyed by the opportunity, as it was the first public outing of Scents of Our Time.
Weeks 1 and 2 focused primarily on the production of candles as well as the production of visual material:
Designed in a manner that apes news graphics, this painting continues a precedent set with my Perfume as Practice body of work. Namely, under current projects the paintings that I complete act simply as visual description of proceedings.
I found that the candle making process – slow, considered and cathartic – provides an alternative method of digesting the news, which often arrives rapidly and successively, affording no time to meaningful contemplation. This is something I will take into my third week.
The 3rd and final week saw a shift of focus from working to exhibiting, as candle production was reduced in favour of curation ready for a closing event. The resultant exhibition saw the presentation of 18 candles, each a separate response to the news, along with visual embellishments and, in an attempt at transparency in my processes, information regarding how each candle was made.
The aim of Scents of Our Time at Access Space was to reveal the capacity candle making has for social comment, agency and creative action while providing transparency into the creative process, allowing for insight and knowledge exchange. I believe that these aims were mostly achieved, but in unexpected ways.
For one, I didn’t account for the visual intricacies of each candle to be contemplated by an audience. Perfume as Practice – my other project that utilises scent – tends to rely on supporting visual material to create a cohesive set of work as otherwise it’s proven hard for an audience to engage with it beyond face value. Scents of Our Time didn’t actually need any other supporting material as each candle contained enough visual information to be regarded within context: If I am, for example, responding to the (relative) triumph of the England National Football Team, a candle adorned with grass-green and white wax already provides an audience with a visual representation. This use of colour is absent from perfume as Practice and as such, perhaps I had gotten overly used to designing extra visual ques even when I don’t need them.
Unfortunately, a combination of The World Cup and the hot weather (both of which were responded to in my candles) meant audience attendance was down on what might have been expected. However, what audience there was appeared fully engaged with the project, citing it’s innovation and subversive approach to candle making. This is a fantastic starting point and I think the project lends itself to being a residency, as it forces me to respond with urgency and energy to the news of the day. And it will be fun seeing where this leads.