Studied Art & Design: Performance Design and Practice at the Central St. Martin’s University of London and Theater Studies in Paris (Cours Florent). She currently studies Psychology at the University of Essex.
My first mediator’s experience at Garage was dedicated to the theme of olfaction. This is, probably, what interested and intrigued me so much in this project—a mix of science and art, a very attractive symbiosis. Plus, the opportunity to become part of one of the country’s top contemporary art institutions, of course.
It was already obvious at the preparation stage, that it is an unusual and serious project, whereby, through research and presentations, we received a colossal amount of new and meaningful information: from the history of olfaction and acquaintance with the wonderful creators in this field—to quite informative interaction with the staff of the Museum’s Inclusive Programs department.
The wonderful feeling of anticipation of that very action developed at the same time. The project itself, even though it went unbelievably quickly, was very intense in terms of communication, faces, ideas, colors, and the ether...
I made a number of observations and conclusions while working on the project.
The first thing is that everything, including writing a mediator’s diary, has to be done in its time, so that later one doesn’t need to desperately recall details or phrases said by the visitors.
Secondly, I’m in love with a wonderful and eccentric Norwegian woman. Her name is Sissel Tolaas, and she is sixty-something. She is an active, versatile person who constantly expands her own views and those of others, travels and seeks to convey the important role of olfactory resources and smells in our culture, which society often forgets about.
Here, I’m going to return to my mediator’s (or laboratory assistant’s) alias for a short while. Human sense of smell is quite an interesting and unusual sense. The olfactory bulb is located rather close to hypothalamus and tonsil, olfactory fibers are interconnected with these parts of the brain that are responsible for memory and emotions, respectively. This is why smells have such an influence on our memories and feelings and define psychological portraits of all of us. Each “sniffing” person has their triggers, i.e. smells which are tightly connected with the subconscious and are being collected and encoded in memory throughout one’s lifetime, with each and every breath. I like this system a lot, as it predetermines the individual nature of each one of us, of every visitor.
I think it was one of my favorite moments—watching different people delve into reflections on the role of smells in their lives, the change of emotions on their faces: nostalgia, sadness, laughter, sometimes embarrassment and blushing cheeks. Some shared their memories and experiences, others preferred to refrain from it.
Just as in contemporary art in general, there are no correct answers—each of Sissel’s vessels had a unique smell for each guest, invoking personal associations.
Below are notes about the vessels made during my working shifts and from what other mediators said.
Dust with something damp
Buckwheat but wet
Bitter chewing gum
Greenhouse with tomatoes
Wild strawberries after the rain
Amazing smell (4-year-old boy)
Medical ointment “Star”
Of course, different guests often had similar associations with smells. Very quickly the most “pleasant” and “non-pleasant” smells were determined, and overall, the mix of smells and immersion into the cloud of ether oftentimes led to disturbing sensations. It was unexpected and curious to meet visitors who particularly liked a single scent or liked all of them at once (I had two such guests). It was all the more interesting to see how, depending on age, cultural background, origin or experience, people had different opinions and formed new ideas and theories about the work.
A twelve-year-old girl drew an interesting parallel with the title of Sissel’s artwork which is MeMoMe. The letter “M” is repeated in each syllable here, while the sound of the following vowel is always different (in the English version of pronunciation): smells may seem equally similar even when they come from the same vessel.
Another visitor told me that during the time of an increased number of suicides among teenagers in Japan, the following method was invented: in the early age, a child was given a certain smell in the moments of joy, and if later the same person suffered from depression as a teenager, they returned to this smell, which helped to improve their mood on subconscious level.
And of course, I would remember for a long time that four-year-old kid who always tried to steal vessel #7—this is how much he enjoyed the smell of it.
Since certain items in my wardrobe are still saturated with Art Experiment’s perfumes, I will still be able to come back to it in my mind for some time and plunge into memories. This is in fact a tiny olfactory life hack I have used to write this diary.
The museum is the best platform for such experimentations where science and technology turn into art, where one can communicate, emancipate oneself, learn, meditate, and—sometimes—receive gifts.