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.
Over the last 7 days I have staged no less than 3 workshops in 3 different towns and cities across the UK. I began at General Office in Stourbridge, continued to Cass Art in Liverpool and ended in Cass Art, Manchester.
The week saw a total of 10 separate train journeys across 450 miles (though granted I did combine the General Office gig with a trip to my parents, who live close by) and I delivered my workshop to a total of 33 participants. As ever, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
I have been delivering perfume making workshops for years now, but what continues to strike me about them is how much I, myself, learn from each one. Each participant arrives at my workshop with an array of thoughts, opinions and experiences of perfume, and as such, each participant contributes to my overall perception of perfumery and it’s affecting qualities on audiences.
Staging workshops away from my base in Sheffield also allows me to enjoy the somewhat personal adventure of travelling and what travelling provides. At General Office I was able to catch up with my friend – and fellow a.n blogger – Elena Thomas. In Liverpool I was able to do a spot of Christmas Shopping and in Manchester I enjoyed looking around Afflecks for the first time in years. It might not sound like much, but it all contributes to the overall experience and overall pleasure.
In 2015 I somewhat naively expected my workshops to be somewhat auxiliary; and regarded my exhibitions to be the prominent part of my Perfume as Practice project. After 4 years I can conclude that this isn’t really the case – if anything they compliment each other, and the experience I gain from each informs the project as a whole. And long may it continue!
Over the last week I have been uncovering the commercial potential of Perfume as Practice. For while the essence of the project is artistic, that doesn’t mean I can’t dip my toe in the more consumer driven elements of the fragrance industry from time to time.
That’s why the beginning of this month sees me showcasing a range of reed diffusers based on house plants. They are called Botanical Blends and are currently on display (and for sale) at the Art in the Home event at Kommune, Sheffield.
I’m actually rather happy with them, as the concept of taking inspiration from house plants allows the diffusers to have a little conceptual grounding, while offering customers an opportunity to by something unique and bespoke.
They also act as something as a precursor to a project I am undertaking in 2020, which will see me design a perfume for Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. And by perfume, I mean an actual perfume. That people will be able to buy. In a shop. With a box and a livery and warning labels and everything.
It all feels rather exciting as making a perfume to industry standards is something that will greatly inform and benefit Perfume as Practice, which has always sought to be disciplined in it’s perfume design, and has always respected the perfume making process. The opportunity to make, sell and market a perfume for customers to buy will essentially make me a better perfumer, and that can only be a good thing going forward.
Art in the Home is open at Kommune until 10th November.
This October saw me stage my ninth Perfume as Practice exhibition, which was held at Centrespace Gallery, Bristol and featured 18 perfumes, each a portrait of another artist and created using my well-established process that begins by asking artists the question ‘why do you make art?’ then responding to the answer received through scent design; capturing the essence of the artist.
As well as the core principle of subverting our expectations of perfumery by placing it in a contemporary art context, each Perfume as Practice exhibition strives to develop the project as a whole. Previously this has included incorporating visual elements, working towards specific themes and even placing the project alongside the work of another artist: All of which aimed to devise and assess different ways visitors may encounter perfume in a contemporary art space.
So, what was it about this incarnation that developed the project? Well, this was the first time that the perfume portraits were exhibited alongside visual work created by the artists themselves. So the audience encountered 18 perfume portraits and 18 corresponding works of art, and as such they were able to associate the perfumes with the artists involved in a direct and meaningful way.
This added a new and welcome dimension to Perfume as Practice, as visitors took visible delight in connecting each perfume to each visual piece and ascertaining how I arrived at each perfume portrait. This actually made my perfume making process all the more transparent, as I was able to physically show audiences the work of each artist, and each artist elicited a presence within the exhibition. It was also interesting to witness audiences utilising both scent and vision to fully experience the exhibition; intuitively connecting one sense to another through engagement with art.
Was it the most accomplished Perfume as Practice incarnation? Quite possibly. Though that’s thanks in no small part to the artists themselves, who were as follows:
Heather Fiona Martin
It was also fantastic to exhibit at Centrespace, which is a wonderful gallery (you should check it out, seriously!) I would like to thank Arts Council England for their support too.
So now to secure a few gallery spaces for Perfume as Practice in 2020…
This week sees the opening of my latest Perfume as Practice show, which will take place at Centrespace Gallery, Bristol from 4th – 9th October 2019.
As ever, Perfume as Practice AW19 will look at the artistic potential of perfumery and how it can be used to create portraiture. The exhibition will comprise 18 perfumes, each a portrait of another artist. These perfume portraits are achieved through my well-established process that begins by asking artists the question ‘why do you make art?’ Then, through a method of intuition and investigation, I create perfume relative to the answer received – capturing the essence of an artist.
In an effort to forge tighter connections this exhibition will provide the artists involved a chance to exhibit their own work alongside their portraits under the overarching theme of ‘voyage’. This theme alludes to Bristol’s history as a port town and acts as a metaphor for the careers of each artist. As ever the exhibition promises to subvert your expectations of scent, perfume and portraiture in general!
I’m really looking forward to exhibiting in Bristol as it’s a city I’ve never visited so it will be great to immerse myself in it for a week. I am also really happy to have secured Arts Council funding for this particular exhibition, which I always feel validates Perfume as Practice somewhat, with particular regards to how perfume can be perceived as an artform.
Many thanks to Centrespace Gallery for the opportunity, and to the artists involved, whose perfume portrait and own work will be on display: Sue Burley; JanCarlo Caling; Marisa Culatto; Stig Evans; Jenna Fox; Andrea Freeman; Liz Griffiths; Catherine Higham; Jeff Hunter; Lady M; Grant Lambie; Heather Fiona Martin; Sharon Mossbeck; Helen Sills; Agatha Smith; Clare Smith; Robert Verrill; Myfanwy Williams
Well, safe to say I have somewhat neglected this particular platform over the last few months! Since July I’ve been busy installing and curating exhibitions and securing workshops, all of which have been sadly absent from this blog.
However, I aim to remedy such neglectfulness by looking to the future. Next month I am heading to Bristol in order to curate and install my latest Perfume as Practice exhibition at Centrespace Gallery. The exhibition will house at least 15 perfumes, each a portrait of another artist. The exhibition aims to reveal the artistic potential of perfumery and will be set to a theme in keeping with Bristol’s rich history of trade routes.
In November I will be creating bespoke reed diffusers in an aim to develop a commercial arm of Perfume as Practice. The diffusers will each house a botanical blend of domestic plantlife, and will be for sale during the Art in the Home exhibition at Kommune, Sheffield.
Both of these endeavours will be explored and documented on this here blog as I aim to reconnect with the act of writing about my work. So watch this space for more updates!