You’re on Air, the 10th Art Experiment, explores the poetic, magical, and mnemonic properties of scents.
The title of the project in Russian, which can also be translated as “you’re in the ether,” refers to the popular idea of ether as a universal, all-pervading medium that acts as a transmitter of energy. In 1875, the Victorian physicists Balfour Stewart and Peter Guthrie Tait, writing in The Unseen Universe, proposed understanding ether as a depository for various images, sensations, forms, and feelings, in other words a space where memory is stored. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, as the calendar cycle begins again, Garage invites visitors to enter the mystical space of the ether.
The project opens with a work by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, entitled Candle (From Earth into a Black Hole). The installation features a candle that, as it burns, gives off scents corresponding to places on the cosmic route from our planet to a black hole. By attaching particular scents to our solar system's celestial bodies—the Sun and Moon, Venus and Mars or the asteroid belt—the artist creates an imaginary journey through space via the sense of smell.
The Alchemy of Scents workshop, created by perfumer and chemist Anna Agurina specially for Art Experiment, will transport visitors to a sacred ceremony. Guided by mediators, they will create olfactory compositions by mixing aromas that represent the elements of fire, water, earth, and air.
The hi-tech installation The Faces of Smell by Yekaterinburg-based group Where Dogs Run invites visitors to take part in gas analysis. By approaching the pipes of the sensors that collect and analyze personal smell data, visitors will be able to see their own olfactory portraits. The work is not simply an invitation to look more closely at oneself but a disturbing reminder of the fact that in a world of rapidly evolving technology, personal smell may become another tool of biometric control in the hands of states or corporations, along with fingerprints, voice samples, and vein patterns.
The introduction to olfactory art continues with the installation MeMoMe_2020 by Norwegian artist Sissel Tolaas, a collection of abstract scents that belong to no real object or situation but seem vaguely familiar. The work is based on the Proust effect: the ability of sensory stimuli to bring back forgotten memories. In Swann's Way, Marcel Proust’s narrator raises “to [his] lips a spoonful of the tea in which [he] had soaked a morsel of [madeleine] cake” and is moved by a wave of childhood memories. In a similar way, the scents featured in MeMoMe_2020 will become attached to the winter-holiday experience at Art Experiment and revive memories of it in future.
The journey ends with the workshop Energetic Flower Stand by American artist Jess Hirsh. Combining alternative medicine and art therapy practices, the artist will help visitors create healing bouquets in which the flowers correspond to particular emotional states. Together with the bouquet, each visitor will be offered one of several walking routes around Moscow. Like the bouquets, these city walks are designed to reflect their mood or improve it.
In Art Experiment tradition, visitors will be guided by Garage mediators, who will help participants attune their perception to new experiences and take them on an exciting journey to the world of transparent and ephemeral matter. The immaterial nature of scents is reflected in the design of the space, with light, semi-transparent fabric screens acting as walls. To help visitors find their way in this “ethereal” space, where they will search for invisible but important scents (as important as the stress in a word, a memory, or divine essences), Garage has prepared a map in collaboration with illustrator Olia Levina. It contains information on the works featured in the project, has a space for notes, and invites visitors to play a game to test their attention to detail and general knowledge.
First launched in 2010, Art Experiment is the flagship initiative of Garage Education and Public Programs. Each year’s project differs from the previous one, but the visitor experience is always central. As in every Art Experiment, through the process of creativity visitors discover the child and/or artist within themselves.
Curator: Iaroslav Volovod