Varvara Kudlay
I graduated from the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University last year, work in a publishing house and do independent theater projects. Art Experiment. You’re on Air isn’t my first collaboration with Garage: I also took part in last year’s Art Experiment. The Miracle of Light and worked at the Garage Under-18 family festival. I am particularly interested in participatory practices in contemporary art.

During my very first mediator’s masterclass The Alchemy of Smells, a ten-year-old girl Liza responded to the smell named “Clean Skin” with the sound “mayook” («мэук»). I am sure, artist Sissel Tolaas, who is working on the development a special language to describe odors, would have been delighted.

I feel worried as I await my first mediation: to avoid generating expert knowledge, maintain a dialogue with all group members, take into account each visitor’s mood and optics. My anxieties dissolve as I enter into dialogue with the first group, and everything goes well. Being immersed in the realm of smells and carried away by their inaugural perfumery experience, visitors are trying to define scents with associations: “’Electric Banana’ is called that because bananas and electricity share the same shape; ‘Ozone’ is cold, and ‘Moonstone’ is purple”.

Afterwards, I had a lot of different groups—and different definitions, different associations, different olfactory insights each time. A smile on the face of an eight-year-old boy occurring as a result of grapefruit notes which he heard in the scent; a conversation with a snobbish biologist about the immunity types of humans; the surprise of visitors at the encounter with the Proustian effect—my memory has fixed all this forever with the smells from this workshop.

I reflected a lot on the mediation format while working on the project. How horizontal communication and the lack of instructive academic intonations open up the visitor, provide them with space and freedom for their own ideas and reflections, set up for a dialogue and, as a result, instigate the emergence of something new and interesting, that wouldn’t be possible in the situation of an academic uniflow coming from the guide.

While granting me with an amazing mediator’s experience, Art Experiment. You’re on Air also changed my attitude to smells, their perception, and the lexicon we use when discussing them. Once, in between two shifts, I received a message from a friend: “My favorite band has released a new album. You should listen to it!” And I realized that “professional deformation” had reached such proportions that I no longer could perceive the word “listen” outside of the olfactory context.

It seems to me that I still live on the energy this project gave me.

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