[ISEA2000] Paper: MARGARET MORSE – Burnt Offerings: Body Odors and the Olfactory Arts in Digital Culture


What is olfactory art in a digital age? Margaret Morse examines pieces by three contemporary artists who work with odors and asks what such olfac­tory expressions teach us about the body in cyberculture. Widespread assumptions about the disembodied and hence clean and odorless nature o’ digital realms are set in question in the process. Other questions arise including whether smell is already «virtual» to some degree and whether cyberspace is inherently smelly. Olfactory art is set in the context of shifts in the perfume industry and contemporary initiatives to rationalize digitize and distribute smell virtually. Historical studies on the cultural uses of odor in the ancient and premodern world and theoretical concepts such as Benjamin’s ‘aura’ and Anzieu’s ‘olfactory envelope’ illuminate the role of odor in rela­tion to the network of associations that compose the memory and the imag­inary of community.

  • Margaret Morse, Film and Digital Media Department, University of California at Santa Cruz, US. She has published Virtualities Television, Media Art and Cyberculture (Indiana UP: 1998) and numerous arti­cles on art and media. She is the principle author of Hardware, Software, Artware published by Cantz Verlag and the ZKM in 1997. Her essays on the body include Sport on Television, The Body Electronic and What Do Cyborgs Eat?.