I was very lucky to begin the new calendar year with the job of my dreams. So all of the following can well be called “Notes of A Happy Person”.
Here I’m gonna boast a little bit about my impressions and reveal several observations at the same time. Stay tuned!
A couple of words about the preparation: we trained for almost two months for a project that ran only eleven days. We had sessions with a speech techniques coach, an English language tutor, made our own research and presentations on the contributing artists, met with curators, met with artists, met with each other a lot, ate tons of pizza, and expanded our olfactory horizons. Complete and merciless immersion and a sea of pleasant sensations. But let’s move on to the work on the project itself.
Being a guide into the world of scents is a very pleasant responsibility, because your interpretation not only informs the perception of smells but also reveals the very discovery of their spectrum. There was an exercise on stirring up olfactory imagination in our entrance area: we described two paintings and a sculpture and then fantasized on the theme of scents which these artworks might articulate. Afterwards, we listened to the scents prepared specially for the project by the perfumer Anna Agurina. Interestingly, the more detailed was our description of works, the more smells visitors were able to guess. The most striking suggestion was made by a visitor who heard a note of dung in the bouquet of smells prepared for the painting Female Merchant whereas most of the guests did not distinguish anything but fruits and flowers in it (and indeed, there was zibet added to the bouquet to create bodily and fecal notes). Some kids felt cucumber in the bouquet accompanying Yuri Kuper’s painting, while there was wet rhubarb instead, which none of our guests managed to detect. Among other revelations, I suddenly realized that none of the visitors suggested that the paintings smelled like watercolors or acrylic. We instantly use imagery while thinking about smells, we impose smells onto visual objects—this experience demonstrates how brilliantly our imagination operates.
Differences in the perception of smells and images prove our diversity and how great it is to be so different. Visitors “heard” a lot of things in Tony Craig’s sculpture, from natural forms, like canyons and mushrooms, to amber cookies and chocolate.
What really astonished me, children provided totally unpredictable olfactory associations. I worried a few times before the start of the show that school pupils would be bored and unable to distinguish between such complex olfactory compositions, that it would be difficult for them to discuss them. But eventually, I was impressed in the most positive way by their curiosity and nontrivial associations: where adults searched for something logical, kids coolly reported that “they felt the smell of frogs, fried meat, and swamp”. Such level of confidence is to be envied! Inspired by these confessions, adult visitors produced their own non-banal associations, and we led incredible dialogues.
I would like to share a linguistic observation. As early as in the entrance area I suggested that my guests should get rid of such common categories of smells, as pleasant and not pleasant, and prepare themselves for a pure experience without cultural stereotypes. Not all of them coped with it. Even I myself constantly stumbled over the wish to characterize smells in terms of their pleasing/non-pleasing qualities or, at best, as attractive and repulsive (which is in fact the same thing). So cultural codes ultimately won, but at least, we tried!
I am very hopeful that our project helped many people to allow smells in their realm as a way of apprehending the world and a means of expressing emotions and feelings more intensely. All of us try to listen to our sense of smell when we choose a perfume or taste a new dish, but our olfactory abilities are much wider: using them, we can coordinate our memories, surround ourselves with scents that improve our physical and emotional well-being, and compile archives of smells of existent or even lost objects. Allow ourselves to experiment more with the world around. Art Experiment has been inspiring and motivating people for ten years already. Thank you for this experience. And thank you for the opportunity to help Garage visitors acquire this experience.