smell: odour, scent, whiff, aroma, fragrance, perfume, bouquet
After posting images of some new work on social media recently, I had a couple of responses from fellow artists around the subject of smell.
‘I can smell them from here’ was a comment from artist Elena Thomas in response to me posting an image of used powder puffs a few weeks back. And artist Marilyn Kyle responded to ‘a pink and beige’ image I posted on Facebook this week with: ‘I can almost smell the moth balls and lavender.’ It’s always nice when people take the time to respond – not only does it help me feel connected, it also makes me mindful of the universal appeal of objects and the numerous facets associated with them.
Powerful, evocative smells come to mind frequently for me, particularly when I’m working with objects that focus on my late grandmother. ‘Nana’s Colours’ especially conjures up the many varied sorts of smell, of baking and cooking, of pomanders, bowls of pot pourri, scent bottles, powder puffs and compacts – redolent both of a woman’s domestic and her more intimate, personal life.
I spend a lot of my time sorting and sifting through boxes and suitcases as part of the process of making work – seeking out those small, specific ‘just right’ things that somehow complete a piece with a final, finishing touch. My collections have become more and more organised over the years – the boxes pretty much all labelled now, and so there aren’t as many surprises as there once were. Sometimes, though, in the sorting process, I can still be surprised – just as I was this week when I was having a final rummage to find things associated with female identity. I opened a box in which the top to a bottle of perfume had come loose and the perfume had leaked out. The scent was strong and pungent – a generic, floral kind of smell that transported me right back to my childhood – to moments spent with my Nana, when as a special treat, I was allowed to sit at her dressing table and play with the things on it: face creams, powder puffs, beige-coloured powder, perfume bottles and lipsticks, each with their own unique, haunting fragrance.
Scent is transportive and the perfumes associated with various chapters of our lives, often memorable. Scientific studies have proven an intimate connection between scents and our emotions and memory. It’s why memories triggered by smell as opposed to other senses are ‘experienced as more emotional and more evocative’ (Rachel Herz, assistant professor of psychiatry & human behaviour at Brown University, Rhode Island). Herz also remarks on the fact that: ‘a familiar but long-forgotten scent can even bring people to tears.’
I’ll soon be installing a piece of work in response to the theme of identity and the inner world. It’s a large, ambitious install with a substantial bulk of pre-owned furniture and materials being used. Many evocative objects will make their way into the installation, some of them being items that were rescued from the house in which my Nana lived for some 70+ years. I won’t be using scents as such, but many of the objects on display will undoubtedly be impregnated with odours from the past – steeped with the smells of age, imbued with a strong sense of a history and use. I’m very much hoping to have further conversations around the memories they might evoke in others.
If you’re in London and get a chance to visit the Collyer Bristow Gallery, do come along to see ‘Me, Myself and I’ a group show involving the work of twenty contemporary artists. Further details in the press release here:
Please note that the gallery is open Monday to Friday during office hours, with viewings by appointment. Please contact: [email protected]/ 020 7242 7363