Last week a commission I was working on was cancelled due to covid19. Curiously it’s been the first such cancellation, despite the hold coronavirus has had on us over the last 5 months. I feel somewhat behind the curve in harbouring thoughts of dejection and anguish that compliments a covid cancellation, which is tied to both professional and financial prospects. Though saying that I am undeterred. I am aware that, all things considered, I am in a fortuitous financial, professional and medical position compared to others. Additionally, many of my forthcoming projects have be postponed rather than cancelled, so I can still work on them. Do I feel frustrated and disarmed by covid19? Yes. But at least I’m alive.
The commission was to design a scented experience around an exhibition, and as such the cancellation was not altogether unexpected, due to the inherently tactile and interactive nature of scent within a gallery context. Indeed, over the past months I have been thinking of ways to stage exhibition, events and workshops in a safe and appropriate manner without compromising my work, which often relies on direct interaction. Aside from producing videos (which I will, eventually, I promise!) ideas have been thin on the ground. Looking at the history of hygiene within a contemporary art context seems appropriate, with hand sanitiser and soap able to accommodate scent, so perhaps that’s a starting point.
Of course, another option is to do nothing. After all I can always wait until life returns to some kind of normality before re-emerging with a wave of scented experiences ready for interaction. But waiting around doesn’t sit well with me. So perhaps a trip to the studio to do a bit of thinking and tinkering is in order.
In fact lets go and do that now.
As we begin to ease into some kind of normality I am left thinking about my practice as a whole, and how I can ensure safety without compromising my output in light of coronavirus.
Typically, my work is interactive, and each exhibition sees my audience getting their mitts all over a collection of perfumes; passing them along to each other and placing them back down ready for someone else to experience it. Given the coronavirus pandemic, it is impractical to design exhibitions this way. Too much contact is made and it will prove difficult to ensure perfumes are interacted with safely. There will also be a degree of reluctance to initiate such interaction. So, during the next few months at least, this approach to making needs to be shelved.
So what does this leave me with? Well, I think a standard Perfume as Practice exhibition whereby the audience cannot interact with the fragrance rather defeats the object. The aim of these exhibitions is to highlight the possibilities of scent so removing access to the scent would render the exhibitions redundant. Of course, the audience could interact with the scent without touching anything – through paper strips attached to walls that have already been dowsed in scent, for example – but experience has taught me that this method is inconsistent, and experimentation is required to ensure quality exhibitions.
So what can I do now that showcases my artistic input while being safely removed from the perils of the pandemic? The answer inevitably lies in video.
Over the next month or so I intend to make a series of videos that use perfumery to reveal how religion, medicine and ritual have attempted to ward off illness. The scripts for each video are complete and filming should commence imminently. I wanted to introduce an aesthetic that parody’s a cookery show; guiding the audience through an imagined process of how to rustle up a plague cure through fragrance design.
The videos should be fun and rather informal, but should hopefully educate a little too. I’m looking forward to finally filming them.
Now if only someone could invent Smell-O-Vision…