‘Scented Thoughts’ are blog posts that seek to document thought processes towards the principles of scent and how scent exists in our everyday experiences. These thoughts will inform ‘Perfume as Practice’ – My residency at Bank Street Arts.
Scent can’t be uniquely about memory because memory is evoked by all the senses. Walking past a swimming pool in Sheffield last night, my nose was bombarded by the undeniable mixture of light chemicals combined with hot air. This emitted a unique smell synonymous with learning how to swim, and as such, it transported me back to childhood.
However, the smell emitted by swimming pools isn’t the only thing synonymous with learning how to swim. The raised knuckles against my feet on the tiles around swimming pools evoke similar memoires. As does the combined sound of a whistle and splashing water. Seeing floats and arm bands instantly places you within the realms of your childhood self who is ill-at-ease in the water, whilst the accidental mouthful of pool water can resonate with your early swimming struggles.
As a simple study, my swimming pool experience provides a reasoned and informed argument for the dismissal of the 5 senses. All the senses are ignited when you associate your experiences with your memories, as you experience the world with all senses in an all-encompassing manner. Therefore, I hypothesise that art needs to be created in a way which acknowledges every sense. That way, art more intrinsically linked to how we exist in the world will be achieved.
Much like the contents of a perfume bottle, my thoughts towards perfumery are unknown, mysterious and confusing. Having only just begun the voyage into perfumery – thanks to my residency at Bank Street Arts – it is perhaps understandable that any ideas and theories towards how to proceed feel unverified, contradictory and most probably incorrect.
In an attempt to contribute new thinking to how perfume can be utilised I am developing my relationship with perfume in relation to three things – vision, ideas and language.
As a an artist, there is a sense of intuition to how I utilise vision in my work. And of course vision takes precedence over the other senses, but our lives would be pretty impossible without utilising other senses too. The problem is, we are so dependant on vision that we must comprehend each sense in relation to it. Even language is often framed in relation to vision – we are often required to visualise the sentence we are reading, we are not often required to imagine to taste it. Indeed, language struggled to describe the olfactory senses without reverting to metaphor. When we say that cheese tastes sharp, we don’t mean it’s covered in razor blades, and when we describe a 1970’s living room carpet as ‘loud’ we don’t literally mean it is making noise.
Advertisements too, often revert to abstraction in a way which bears no relation to the product when the product is based on taste and scent. From the gorilla banging on a drum for Cadbury’s to a woman climbing up a bit of cloth towards a cityscape for Dior’s ‘J’adore’advertisements. Both these advertisements attempt to convey the sensation of the product, or the products’ effect upon the consumer. But they fail to describe the actual product in any meaningful way. Perhaps they don’t need too, but it is fascinating how attempts to convey non-visual products in a visual way often resorts to abstraction.
Indeed, it’s not as if you can’t describe non-visual entities using language – There are descriptive words for the olfactory senses, such as tangy and bitter. Language is able to transcend the senses, with the capacity to use words associated with any given thoughts, associations and experiences: That’s because we experience the world in a way which transcends the notion of 5 senses, we instead experience the world in a much more all-encompassing and immersive way, existing in relation to everything else. Language is able to accept and understand this, and as such is add odds with the somewhat rigdid notion that we use our 5 senses to understand the world.
This tension between the transience of language and the ridged concept of the 5 senses is something worth exploring, as it might allow me to understand why visual ideas become halted within the creative process: Perhaps they need to be approached without preconceived notions of vision and need to be assessed in relation to other senses. Language is able to accommodate all senses and as such can be exploited to convey meaning.
The image above shows some essential oil dripped onto blotting strips, but rather than telling the audience what scent of the oil is, I have described how the oil makes me feel. Feeling, of course, being something precedent when any sense is utilised. This is a visual description of what I have been talking about: Language is a tool that over-arches the senses – allowing the senses to be accepted as one collective and all-encompassing way of understanding the world.
Wednesday is a good time for me to blog. It is the one day of the week at I can always entirely dedicate to artistic practice. For some parts of the week I have to be a librarian in order to pay the bills, other parts I must adhere to the trivial humane necessities such as ‘socialising’ and ‘shopping for clothes so that I don’t look like a tramp’. But Wednesday is very much ‘Studio Day’ and as such, a whole wealth of creative development needs to be documented, analysed and reflected upon. So let’s get going.
Nutmeg, again, takes precedence over my empirical exploration. I am beginning to develop the idea of merely visually translating sound into an emerging investigation regarding how memory, and the connotations surrounding memory, can be rendered visual. I want these works to be poised on the axis of a reality that can be remembered and a reality that never existed. It intrigues me that there are similarities between imagination and memory, for neither of them presently physically exist.
My work seeks to create discourse between the audience and the audience’s perception of eating. For although the work is a description of the tactile and aural sensation of eating, grounded in memory, the work itself is created using nutmeg, known for its hallucinogenic qualities. This allows the audience to call into question what is being viewed. Is it rooted in reality, or fantasy? It exposes the idea that memory can be unreliable, tentative and sometimes based on nostalgia. It also suggests that the senses can be fooled, and that what is being seen doesn’t necessarily reflect what is being experienced by other sensory outputs.
My latest work signifies something of a breakthrough in terms of what a jar of paint can depict: A degree of subjection is instantly attached to the contents of each jar. They no longer represent paint; they represent the essence of paint.
The properties of food have still been exploited in order to achieve the paint. But rather than describing the face value of the paint, labels have been attached that describe metaphorical and experiential attachment to the paint, based on the paint’s properties. For example, the label ‘Home’ is attached to paint made from tea. This is because the concept of a cup of tea contains within it connotations associated with the experience of being home.
The jar of paint is now able to communicate the notion that memory has an intrinsic and complex correspondence to the food we consume, and that preconception dictates our preference to food.
A notable juxtaposition is that, inherently, what I have created are still essentially jars of paint – meaning that they can be consumed, exchanged, revered and dismissed in the same way all products can. The notion of memory-based subjection and individual regard becomes restated as a consumable item.
I have also applied each paint to a surface in equal rectangular strips behind the corresponding jar. The nature of applying paint in this way seeks to remove subjection and seeks to regard application of paint as a reference – a tool which one can use to ascertain the nature and density of the paint at face value. The medium has therefore exchanged roles with the painting – for it is the medium that communicates an idea and the painting that becomes an object.
So, this is ‘where I’m at,’ as it were. But I believe that this breakthrough acts as a precursor to something grander, with more emphasis on the notion that memory and connotation can be appropriated as a consumable product.