Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Dear Yasminers,

Since Nina has already introduced me, I am happy to bypass
self-introduction and throw out some ideas about the sense of smell
as a visual experience.

I thought maybe to begin with a few words about what I think is at stake in
looking at the sense of smell and the olfactory in terms of sensory and
seeking to redefine aesthetic experience. Discussions on the sense smell
usually consider smell to be beyond the realm of esthetics and serves as a
negative example that justifies the conventional dominance of the visual and
sonic arts. For some the fact that some odors are repugnant means that they
cannot be artful and for other smell is sensuous for serious intellectual
pursuits. Smells are thought to be too subjective to allow a disinterested
or universal experience of art. However the distinctive qualities of smell
and scent such as intimacy, evocativeness, variability primality,
ephemerality to my opinion add to the poetic process of making meaning by
creating experiences which are no longer only productive in creating only
sensorial experiences but they become productive on the level of producing
relational aesthetics especially when they trigger olfactory memory

Smell is not doubt a primary instrument of the memory, it causes the re
emergence of forgotten mental patterns, associative correlations, blends of
references and the awakening of distant experiences of the past which are
however difficult to reconstruct because smell is not directly susceptible
to mental perception.

A good example is the fascinating novel ³The Perfume² by Patrick Suskind in
which the hero Jean ­Baptiste Grenouille has recorded in his inexhaustible
memory bank all the smells he has encountered in such a clear and
unmistakable manner that not only can he remember them whenever he encounter
them again he can sense hem whenever he simply thinks about them. ³He could
even create new combinations in his imagination having in his disposal an
unlimited private vocabulary of scents that he can recall².

As a visual artist I have been inspired by the above novel and the complex
sensorial visual and relational experiences that surprisingly smell creates
through memory and one¹s own odor "imaginaire " and as a result I created my
web based installation /project called ³Smell Bytes² 1998-2001 which I
produced during a long residency in Banff , Alberta Canada . The project was
premiered during the Biennial of Sao Paolo in Brazil and it was featured at
Net_Condition curated by Peter Weibel at ZKM. In ³ Smell Bytes² the
protagonist is a bot ( software) called Chris 05 a serial olfactory killer
who sniffs for human odors of those who hang out on line. The project
employs biometrics, body odor and scent and its correlation to beauty to
rethink subjectivity, intimacy, privacy, difference, voyeurism and the
abstraction of the sensorial immersion of the body on networked

Most recently I explored the sensorial aspects of scent by appropriating the
convention of the smell map, which dates back in the 18th century.
My site specific project Smell It: Do It Yourself Smell Map, 2008
commissioned by Esther Klein Art Gallery and Monell Science Center in
Philadelphia urges visitors to attend, record and enjoy the scents of their
city that persists despite the best efforts at eradication. With the
schematic of Philadelphia and colorful markers gallery goers are invited to
walk a round the city and document their olfactory experiences. Back in the
gallery an interactive map is posted so that personalized olfactory
notations can be added throughout the show. The Smell IT: Do-it-Yourself Map
encourage participants to consider how to focus on how smell alters the
vision-centered structure of the ³landscape² structure of the city. In
today¹s odorphobic culture the act of sniffing the public space can appear
odd, even suspicious, yet as the contributions to my smell map grow, it will
become possible to chart the subjective importance of scent, the subtle
olfactory shifts from one hour, day or season to the next and the elusive
significance that smell bestows upon the overall character of the urban

Thank you
Jenny Marketou

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