This paper explores our evolving relationship with smell at time when contemporary interactions are becoming ever more ocularcentric. Looking at the history of the perfume industry to the burgeoning air‑freshener and de‑odourizing industry, this research explores how olfaction can deeply effect the way we experience space, sense of place and one another. It examines the ways in which smell simulation technologies are impacting the olfactory landscape while looking specifically at how they are changing and challenging the nature of artistic practice, as artists in some cases not only use these technologies in their work but also lead their development. As daily exchanges become more immersed in remote, digital, often‑virtual experience the necessity to rely upon the full range of the senses to gather information devolves, yet they continue to influence perception. The unique nature of olfaction allows it to elicit feelings that are at once intensely visceral and emotionally potent while, at the same time intellectually elusive. Unlike other senses, smell operates outside of language and smell memories accumulate outside of awareness. They can trigger feelings of comfort yet equally as quickly set off a kind of squeamish disgust. And this reservoir of smell memories develops even without our conscious knowing. We need not intend to smell smells, or be attentive to the presence of them, in order for them to build up, become stored and influence us with every breath. At the same time, contemporary olfactory technologies are enabling us to ever more effectively dupe the senses—creating smells that are extraordinarily precise and entirely fabricated. Experiences are no longer simply mediated but can now be manufactured to reside deeply within our sense memory. While all of our senses become increasingly susceptible to manipulation, smell may actually be the most vulnerable. This research explores how advancements in olfactory simulation are being enlisted not simply by corporations as an elusive marketing tool, but also by governments to promote their agendas. And, as they embark on some of the most advanced research into smell, this paper looks at how artists are beginning to question and counter with research and propositions of their own. From smell simulation projects to immersive olfactory environments and community‑based practices these projects, examined within the history, nature and politics of olfaction, consider the profound influence smell may hold— capable to illicit fear, bind us together, locate us in our corporeal condition, or offer up a promise of escape.
- Nina Leo, CA, is a Canadian interdisciplinary artist. Her work examines how the contemporary media and technology‑rich environment may affect us phenomenologically as experiences and interactions become ever more accessible yet divested of direct multi‑sensorial richness. She explores how this otherwise redesigned intimacy may alter our interactions, influence our sense of self and shape our socio‑political perceptions. Leo holds an MFA in Emerging Practices from the University at Buffalo and has shown widely in Canada, the U.S and Mexico. She is represented in Toronto by the Red Head Gallery and is an Assistant Professor at OCAD University (CAN) where she teaches a range of intermedia studio‑based courses and critical theory.
Full text (PDF) p. 337-342