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 a practitioner of ‘Perfume Portraiture’ for over two years it’s only natural to find myself deviating away from the central premise in order to expand my knowledge, perception and appreciation of fragrance and the possibilities therein.
And so, while the act of creating perfume portraits will continue to occupy a prominent part of my creative output, I have also begun to explore the capacity scent has for social and political comment. As such, ‘Scents of Our Time’ a project that sees response to world events take the form of candle making, has been born.
It began early June, against the backdrop of abhorrent terrorism offences plaguing the UK, all under a turbulent political landscape. In an immediate and responsive moment of creative action, I considered the notion of the ‘One Minute Silence’ – a period of silent and respectful contemplation usually in the wake of a tragic event.
I created a candle as a means to express the sentiment of the one minute silence, and as a means to reveal the capacity scent has for humility and quiet observation. Humble in it’s aesthetics, with a grounded and meditative blend of frankincense, lavender and sandalwood, this candle affords a grounded mental capacity which allows you to engage in reflection and contemplation.
A true representation of the ‘One Minute Silence’ then? Well, hopefully. But more than that, it has initiated a body of work that will further explore the possibilities of scent in a contemporary art context. Another string to my scented bow.
Last week I talked about common initial reactions to my work, this week I thought I’d bring to light another preconception I have to contend with – which is that scent in art is gimmicky.
While I think that can certainly be true. I don’t think my work is. And here’s why: I am remaining true to a craft.
Perfumery is difficult, and requires extensive knowledge of scent, fragrance families, how the nose receives smells and how to delicately balance oils in order to achieve a high quality fragrance. Indeed becoming a Master Perfumer requires around 20 years of honing the craft. This is what allows my own work to achieve a certain weight and depth, as being sensitive to the craft of perfumery enables me to utilise a tangible skill that can be learned, refined and – crucially – imparted. This in turn allows the exchange knowledge, thoughts and experiences which an audience can engage with.
Not that I intend to emulate Master Perfumers, as I believe placing perfumery into a contemporary art platform allows for a degree of experimentation, innovation, freedom and failure that you seemly don’t get with conventional perfumery and it’s need to turn profit. But I do want to subvert common preconceptions of perfume, and you can’t subvert something effectively without first immersing yourself in it.
Upon contemplating my work, and the processes behind my work, initial reactions from an audience almost always tend towards how scent evokes memory. Over the years I have accepted this as an inevitability, and it’s not as though I begrudge such responses, but I do strive against utilising it in my work.
Why? Well for a few reasons. Firstly, if I aim to confound and challenge perceptions of scent and what scent can be, then I need to remove myself from preconceived concepts. Besides which scent and memory have been exploited in creative practice many times, and I see no reason to contribute to such themes myself.
Secondly, while it’s hard to argue the neurological links between scent and memory, it certainly isn’t unique as all the senses have connections with memory. Given this, it’s reasonable to theorise that scent has links to our relationship with the world that exist away from memory.
And it’s these other possible relationships between scent and ourselves that I seek to discover, refine and utilise. Contributing to a wider discussion about scent relative to our lives and contributing to our collective knowledge of scent in a way which adds to our understanding of it is when I position myself and my creative practice.