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Posts tagged “senses

Perfume as Language

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.

Diary of a Non-Synesthete

As an artist, the life of someone with synesthesia – a condition which can basically be described as a mixing of the senses – is at worst intriguing and at best desirable. The ability to see the world differently is something inherent in all artists, but the ability to literally and consciously perceive the world in a way which is altered from what is seen to be ‘normal’ is something of great personal intrigue.

For me, synesthesia acts as an automatic form of artistic expression. I hope this statement isn’t offensive to synesthetes – I just mean that the inherent fundamentals behind the condition are able to describe a way of perceiving the world that can inform our understanding of reality. This is the very reason why artists wish to communicate their ideas, so something that does this anyway will always have the potential to inspire. But how can this inspiration be exploited in order to achieve something with artistic merit?

The problem lies in the fact that art can be seen as metaphoric – a tool which can be utilised to describe a sensation. Synesthesia, on the other hand, is a literal experience. With this in mind, I seek to embed the literal in my work, but by using foods with metaphoric connotations applicable to the condition.

A reasonable starting point is nutmeg. Yes, nutmeg. Whole nutmeg, when freshly ground, contains myristicin – an organic compound which induces psychoactive behaviour, allowing one to synthetically alter their perception of the world. This inherently allows a parallel to be drawn with synesthesia as, while there is an artifice in utilising chemical substances, they can nevertheless allow a non-synesthete to visualise sound, to touch colour and to hear scent.

Myristicin Meter (2013) Nutmeg on canvas. A way of describing the hallucinogenic effects of nutmeg.

Here, I have used the intrinsic characteristics of nutmeg and created a piece based on the sensation of eating. I suppose, in that sense, my work can be seen as describing the idea of synesthesia, and a tension exists between the condition itself and the fact  I cannot acquire it.

Let it be said, however, that being a non-synesthete has its own set of advantages with regard to my practice. It provides me with something unattainable, and the desire for something that is unattainable is a source of creativity – a go-to point when a particular avenue of enquiry is exhausted. I am also able to thoroughly regard all elements of the condition without specific physical attachment, which would have an influence on my overall intrigue.

Synesthesia is a way of seeing the world. In this way, it is similar to art: I just hope that what I create are coherent devices that synthetically create an experience akin to synesthesia, to raise awareness of the condition and, in turn, allow it to be applicable to the reality of a non-synesthete.