The Art of… Scent

Following on from our last Art Challenge (‘Conspiracy’), this time my sister, my dad and me have been working on the randomly selected theme of scent.

After one failure of a project, which I will write up probably in the next blog post, I eventually created a piece around the concept of collecting smells from throughout my life.

When I was 12 I went on a school trip to Normandy and Paris, and I bought a souvenir tin of authentic Paris air, which I still think is pretty funny. I always wondered if, when opened, it would have the same rank smell I recalled from the city.

Smells seem particularly associated, at least to me, both with memory and with intense experiences. My wife has had no sense of smell for most of her life, and it has only recently started to return, here and there, so I am her translator of smell, and yet I rarely think about it in any depth.

So I tried to brainstorm the smells that I could remember distinctly throughout my life, and came up with a really random but not very comprehensive list. If anything, this project has taught me to take more notice with my nose.

What this brainstorming led me to, was the idea of an autobiography in smell, so I have selected a few specific dates in my life – not necessarily the most significant, although some of them may be – but just snapshots, and I have distilled the smells of that day – the concept being that I grabbed a little glass bottle at the time, scooped the smell into it, and now a little bit of the atmosphere of that experience is hermetically sealed forever.

I labelled the bottles, and mounted them into a stand, with the dates inscribed using a pyrography pen. It’s certainly not a great work of art, and wafts far closer to conceptual art than I have ever really explored before, but I rather liked the process of thinking, remembering, imagining and creating.

Sometimes I feel like life happens around me, or like I am just an extra in the grand drama of life, and perhaps something like this helps a little bit just to ground me back in the reality of memory, of sensation, and of experiencing being alive.

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