This October saw me stage my ninth Perfume as Practice exhibition, which was held at Centrespace Gallery, Bristol and featured 18 perfumes, each a portrait of another artist and created using my well-established process that begins by asking artists the question ‘why do you make art?’ then responding to the answer received through scent design; capturing the essence of the artist.
As well as the core principle of subverting our expectations of perfumery by placing it in a contemporary art context, each Perfume as Practice exhibition strives to develop the project as a whole. Previously this has included incorporating visual elements, working towards specific themes and even placing the project alongside the work of another artist: All of which aimed to devise and assess different ways visitors may encounter perfume in a contemporary art space.
So, what was it about this incarnation that developed the project? Well, this was the first time that the perfume portraits were exhibited alongside visual work created by the artists themselves. So the audience encountered 18 perfume portraits and 18 corresponding works of art, and as such they were able to associate the perfumes with the artists involved in a direct and meaningful way.
This added a new and welcome dimension to Perfume as Practice, as visitors took visible delight in connecting each perfume to each visual piece and ascertaining how I arrived at each perfume portrait. This actually made my perfume making process all the more transparent, as I was able to physically show audiences the work of each artist, and each artist elicited a presence within the exhibition. It was also interesting to witness audiences utilising both scent and vision to fully experience the exhibition; intuitively connecting one sense to another through engagement with art.
Was it the most accomplished Perfume as Practice incarnation? Quite possibly. Though that’s thanks in no small part to the artists themselves, who were as follows:
Heather Fiona Martin
It was also fantastic to exhibit at Centrespace, which is a wonderful gallery (you should check it out, seriously!) I would like to thank Arts Council England for their support too.
So now to secure a few gallery spaces for Perfume as Practice in 2020…
My current Perfume as Practice solo exhibition is open at Asylum Gallery, Wolverhampton, until 29th June. As you may know, I theme my Perfume as Practice exhibitions around specific themes. Doing so allows me to respond to spaces and place perfumery in different contexts, reveling the capacity scent has to accommodate contemporary art concepts. It also allows me to play with a fragrance industry convention of unveiling a themed or seasonal collection.
The theme for my Wolverhampton show is ‘Protest’, which has been a tricky subject to frame Perfume as Practice around. Initial thoughts revolved around historical uses of scent to as a means of controlling groups of people. However, this would place scent in a somewhat negative light, and if Perfume as Practice is about one thing, it’s about highlighting how perfume can unify and bolster creative communities when considered as an artform. With this in mind – and considering how protests bring people together in an act of unity – I decided to take the opportunity of utilising ‘protest’ to place perfumery in a positive light; revealing it’s capacity for community spirit, peace, empowerment and agency.
I’ve also used the exhibition as an opportunity to re-brand my image a little. You see, Perfume as Practice has always attempted to demystify the perfume making process; allowing it to be regarded not merely as a luxury commodity, but as a tool of expression that can give others a voice. Perfume is power, and I want to shout about it; as a Perfumer of the People.
Looking back on my creative output over the last year, I’d have to conclude that I have had a relatively successful 2018 – I have delivered on my promise of staging two Perfume as Practice shows a year, immersed myself in the possibilities of candle making in contemporary art, and have reached new audiences both nationally and internationally. So I guess I can’t complain!
This year, I endeavoured to stage both Perfume as Practice shows outside Sheffield. This was an effort to extend my audience reach and introduce new sets of people to the artistic possibilities of perfumery. To that end, I have been successful, as my shows were staged at BasementArtsProject, Leeds, and Bureau Centre for the Arts, Blackburn. (In fact, you can still see my work at BasementArtsProject until the end of January!)
I wanted to see a tangible development in Perfume as Practice – both in terms of the quality of the perfumes made and audience expectation. This was achieved by placing Perfume as Practice in contexts and spaces previously untapped: My exhibition in Blackburn placed perfumery within the context of religion while my exhibition in Leeds was a joint show, placing Perfume as Practice alongside the work of artist Emilia Telese.
One of the failures of my 2017 was that I involved myself in too many group exhibitions, thus compromising the quality of my output. This has been rectified this year as I have carefully selected opportunities relevant to the development of my practice.
I also embarked on a new project; Scents of Our Time. This took the guise of a residency at Access Space and a solo show at Mugen Tea House. In hindsight, the process of using candle making to describe news stories is very immersive, and probably works best as a residency. I think the jury is still out on how an audience responds to it, but there is certainly a lot of potential in the idea and I will seek new opportunities to develop the idea in the new year.
I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone involved in making my 2018 such a success and, actually, a very enjoyable year. I think I feel completely at ease with Perfume as Practice as an idea, and now just seek to hone it, push it in new directions and reach new audiences.
2019 promises to be rather exciting – it will see me stage my first solo show in London, embark on new Perfume as Practice shows in Wolverhampton and Bristol, and continue to stage events and workshops that provide an insight into my unique approach to perfume making and ways of utilising scent in art. Looking forward to it!