Perfume as Practice began as a hunch; can the craft of perfumery, if approached from a contemporary art standpoint, accommodate portraiture? If so, how? What would the process be?
Chiefly, Perfume as Practice seeks to create portraits of other artists. This is achieved through an established process that poses the question ‘why do you make art?’ Then, through interpretation, intuition and investigation, relevant oils are combined in order to achieve a fragrance that captures the artists’ persona, based on the response received.
This process raises questions of identity, gives artists a cathartic means of enforcing their creative processes and highlights the capacity scent has for communicating beyond its preconceptions. This last point is important as subverting and challenging preconceived notions and providing alternatives is vital to my creative output: I believe it can drive change, provide agency and provide a positive and constructive means of forming relationships.
This blog provides a means to highlight the possibilities of scent; describes past, present and future olfactive endeavours and provides a useful and cathartic platform to externalise some thoughts.
As ever, the lead up to a Perfume as Practice solo show requires a descriptive painting which explains visually the concepts and contexts found within the scented experience. My next show – at Bureau, Centre for the Arts in April – will place perfumery within the a religious frame. As such, I present to you this work in progress:
The reason for choosing a religious context is twofold. Firstly it acts as a response to Bureau’s art space, which was formerly a church. But more pertinently, it will enable me to use the narratives found within religion as a symbolic means of categorising the perfume portraits I make, so that they may form connections with each other.
For those not in the know, my perfume portraits are created using an established method that begins by asking artists why they make art, then interpreting the response received in order to arrive at a fragrance that captures the essence of who they are. Often, I find that similarities emerge between artists’ responses. These similarities reveal the factors that drive creative action, and these factors can then be categorised and curated in order to highlight the different forces that initiate creativity and how connections can be established between artists.
So, regrading my next solo show which will house religious contexts, I will use Saints as a method of meaningfully symbolising different creative behaviours, desires and motivations found within each perfume portrait. Four saints will be used in total, and will symbolise instinct; communication; healing; and learning. These are all factors found within my perfume portraits, and all drive creativity.
If that all sounded a little too complicated, it’s probably best to just experience the exhibition for yourself! It will be on from 12-26th April. Not long now!
Last year I sought to take advantage of the association perfume has with Valentine’s Day by creating a set of distinct perfumes, each describing a star sign:
But these perfumes were far from a commercial cash-in. Instead, my aim was to highlight how fragrance can accommodate narrative and interaction; I encouraged the audience to smell the perfume connected to their lover’s star sign. If they did not have a lover, then the scent of Ophiuchus – a long-regarded ’13th star sign’ – made for a suitable facsimile.
There was, however, a twist in the tale. The perfume of Ophiuchus did not actually contain any fragrance; it was merely a jar of almond oil. The moral of the story – rather cloyingly – is that there is no substitute for love. Whether you agree with such a sentiment or not, the fact that fragrance can house a nuanced and multi-faceted story does reveal an alternative perspective for perfume this Valentine’s Day.
This week has been one of those weeks. You know, one that has involved a lot of ‘thinking’ and ‘research’ but without any actual making?
I have a natural tendency to feel disheartened about such a week; it feels unproductive and lethargic. Yet in reality I think those weeks act as groundwork to actually instigate coherent creative action, and without them your endeavours become rudderless and vague. So I’m sure in hindsight I’ll feel as though the last week has been worthwhile.
Anyway, what I have been doing this week is thinking about planets and researching how to translate the mythology found within planets into a fragrant artistic experience.
I have three planets to contemplate, and the work produced will form part of an exhibition in Athens in May. Exhibiting internationally gives me a prudent opportunity to instigate a cross cultural examination of how scent and perfume is perceived differently. In this instance, I seek to relate the connotations of planets derived from Greek Mythology to our collective understanding of scent and the affecting qualities of scent upon an audience. It’s no mean feat! But hopefully success will result in a renewed understanding of the possibilities of fragrance.
I exhibited in Athens last year, and used the opportunity to create a speculative ‘grand tour’ of Europe. It became about how the acquisition of knowledge would be achieved through travel if scent was our primary means of communication, and it also regarded how cross-cultural perceptions are re-imagined and re-told when you return to home soil:
I’m very much looking forward to another Athens adventure this year. And hopefully for years to come!
I will always consider visual aesthetics when designing perfume exhibitions for two reasons: Scent only translates into an experience when an audience is present within a space, therefore visual aesthetics become a useful means of describing and promoting my olfactive endeavours when removed from the space itself.
Secondly, visual aesthetics allow perfumery to be placed within different contexts, therefore extending our relationship both with perfumery as a craft and scent as a means of communication.
More recent Perfume as Practice exhibitions have seen me design a convergence between what is seen and what is smelled; using perfume and painting to explore and re-contextualise the effects and possibilities of scent as communication. Given this, it might come as no surprise that the bottle in which the perfume is housed becomes an item of great importance – it is the key apparatus that uses it’s aesthetics to describe the concepts within an exhibition, and is also the gateway to interaction with the scent itself.
I afford a lot of consideration choosing bottles for exhibitions as I want to design a coherent and meaningful experience, therefore everything must be correct. I am aware of how the perception of a fragrance can shift due to the visual information you can receive from the bottle: A perfume in a conventional spritzer possesses an entirely different meaning to the same perfume placed in a medicine bottle, for example. There is an interesting discourse here regarding how our visual relationship with the world informs our olfactive sensibilities – and this is something that can be revealed, subverted and challenged by placing perfumery within a contemporary art platform.
And of course, certain bottles contain a history and a narrative of their own, whether they contain perfume or not. I’ve taken to collecting bottles; nominally as a source of inspiration – a reminder of the possibilities they possess. But also, I just kind of like them!
Last Saturday I visited the venue for my next Perfume as Practice solo exhibition – Bureau Gallery in Blackburn.
As with any space, Bureau Blackburn comes with its own set of quirks, nuances and challenges. Chiefly, the space is a former Church, and as I strive to place my Perfume as Practice exhibitions under specific themes, I must question whether I should respond to the aesthetics of the venue and position the perfumes under some kind of religious theme.
Religion could certainly be utilised effectively as a theme, with a lot of possibilities and avenues to explore. There is something intangible yet profound about religion, and that shares parallels with the conceptual possibilities of perfumery: Placing perfume and religion beside each other may well inform, reinforce and extend our relationship with both.
fragrance and religion also share historical connections and narratives; particularly around rituals, sacrificial offerings and the use of incense. Again, I need to address whether there is any viability in exploring such connections within my exhibition.
So my visit gave me a lot to think about! No doubt I’ll spend the next week or so thinking things through in order to arrive at answers to the questions posed.
(Pictured: Bureau Blackburn’s space, showing their current exhibition by Sonny J. Barker)