Yulya Karpenkova’s Diary
The first day on the project is always a bit emotional but also very compelling. Compelling, in the first instance, because of communication with visitors, with people who are going to see the show and artworks for the first time. We interacted with each other a lot of times before: all mediators rehearsed their scripts and staged various potential situations. But people who listened to each other in the preparation stage had already been introduced with the project’s theme and items on display, so we staged all dialogues between the viewer and the mediator in the form of a theatrical performance, where everything seemed a bit mechanical. Meanwhile from real visitors, you expect totally novel questions and unpredictable opinions which, like precious findings, one wants to preserve and use in the future.
On that day, I had eight-year-old girls in my second group. One of them remembered that she knew the word “mediator”, by which she meant the musical device for playing guitar. Surprisingly, during the training program prior to the project we kind of forgot about this thing which turned out to be an excellent metaphor that many people understand. I often used this analogy in my mediation afterwards.
Children really fell for the piece by the art group Where Dogs Run. There were twin sisters in our group who were especially enthusiastic about comparing the portraits of their smells which, in fact, turned out to be completely different from each other.
When everyone understood the mechanism of the device, some wanted to experiment with the machine. They took out the newly-created bottles of perfume. Having heard the perfumes, the machine produced curious results, drawing eyeglasses and beards on faces. This is how we learnt that alcohol fumes lead to an interesting response from the machine.
The day of the project’s official launch. I came for the evening shift from another city, not in my best mood. I had to have lunch in a café at the railway station, where on January 2 the staff were a bit sleepy and distracted. Moreover, in the morning I realized that I had damaged my voice a little during the holidays. It wasn’t so obvious at first, but half an hour before the shift my voice began to fade away.
That day wasn’t an easy one for the first mediator’s shift: everyone was just beginning to learn how to control time and space on the project. The opening shift mediators looked a bit crazy when they met us and warned that we should be prepared for some chaos on the site. Everything went well however, groups did not intersect, mediators managed to agree with each other, movement around the space was very natural, even despite minor delays. Visitors were extremely active and interested in a dialogue, some eagerly shared their own impressions and associations, others listened with curiosity.
Evening shifts create a more comfortable atmosphere. Sure, you need to check the timing, but there are breaks in between the groups, so if you wish, you can stay in the exhibition space a bit longer, no need to rush and grab the next group. This is why the discussion is more intense and the eye doesn’t skew to check the clock.
The groups were full. For the majority of visitors, it was their first Art Experiment. It is compelling to have a mix of adults and children in the group. It implies switching to some universal language that can be understood by both parties. The most interesting conversations took place in front of the painting Merchant’s Wife by Kustodiev. The theme of the market generally invokes many associations and memories related to smells in the audience. And all of them are different: some people recall the smell of fresh greenery; others grimace as they remember the odd smell of the fish house. Although there are a hundred years between us and Kustodiev’s painting, the food market remains something that both adults and kids still feel familiar with. As the visitors tried to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of an early twentieth-century market, they mentioned pleasant smells first, such as the smell of fruits, spices or a bakery, before recalling products that spoil without a fridge, or the smell of horses bringing products on carts.
On that day, communication between the mediators was perfect, everyone helped each other and informed each other about every movement across the space. What’s especially pleasing, the evening shift’s mediators finish almost simultaneously, so there remains time to reflect on the day, share impressions, discuss the issues that arose during the shift.
That day’s major impression was very deep. This was the day when, amazingly enough, I managed to stick to the schedule in the morning—and take the next group on time.
I noticed that children often see moving figures or a dance in Tony Cragg’s sculpture, while adults more often refer to more concrete associations with rocks in a desert.
The last day on the project. I really wanted to somehow extend this period, but it turned out vice versa. During the opening shift, groups go one after another, and the time gaps are very narrow. My first group on that day was so late, that the next one had to be postponed a bit as well.
Despite the slight delay in the beginning, the first group’s acquaintance with the entrance zone went really well. The participants were a bit slow at first, but as they approached the last work, Yuri Kuper’s painting, everyone seemed relaxed and shared associations more openly. For the first time on the project, the whole group agreed that the smell selected by Anna Agurina produced more intensive associations than Kuper’s piece. Many participants noted that the painting itself is quite ephemeral, it seems that this dusty window is going to disperse like a fleeting memory. While smell makes the window and the memory more real, more tactile.
The candle was burning quite brightly, but it was not easy to catch the scent again.
During Anna Agurina’s workshop, there was an opportunity to talk to other mediators, discuss the plan. The greatest aspect of this year’s edition of Art Experiment is that we had enough time to make agreements about communication within our own group. To me, it is one of the crucial points in this type of work.
Unfortunately, we had little time, so I had to say goodbye to my first group even before they managed to create flower bouquets. But here again, I was saved due to the support of performers who said the last words and helped to decode the cyphered word.
In the meantime, I rushed to grab my next group. It was obvious that there were perfume lovers among them, who listened to the smells of the entrance area in a very extraordinary—or the proper word would be sensitive—manner. To hear their comments was especially interesting for me, as the smells in the vessels remained very abstract and obscure back then to me.
In relation to the candle, one girl, after learning that this piece by Katy Patterson was inspired by her work in Iceland, mentioned that Icelandic perfumery is very specific, it features a lot natural scents, such as various kinds of moss, wet stones, etc.
There was a girl of around seven years old in that group who did not want to approach the piece Faces of Smell (Лица запаха), perhaps because of the threatening appearance of the machine’s tubes. But when she found out that she could experiment with it by bringing a bottle of perfume she created, she agreed to do so. The resulting portrait resembled a rock musician of the 1970s wearing hilarious moustache and glasses with leopard frames.
Despite the mess with the Russian and English letters, part of the group coped with the exercise and deciphered the word OLFACTION.
Toward the end of the session, the group relaxes, the silent become talkative, people want to share impressions, so it is really a shame to stop the conversation—everyone wants to continue.