This October sees me take up an artists’ residence in orchard Square – a retail unit in Sheffield.
The residency will be open to the public, and as such it provides a means to develop my body of work and add a somewhat preformative element to proceedings as I assume the role of a psychiatrist-of-sorts; directly examining the thoughts, desires and processes of my visitors in order to create a perfume in situ that captures the essence of who they are.
A sense of authenticity will be key here; I have no formal training in either psychiatry or perfumery yet my perceived legitimacy within the space will validate the whole process, allowing it to appear believable and coherent. An open yet clinical environment should also be considered as, while I want to put visitors at ease, they’re also part of the process and an openness and honesty from them will allow for a richer, meaningful perfume to be created.
That’s not to say a sense of fun should not also enter the equation. I like the idea of incorporating the historical connections between scent and medicine into the space. This could also be something that reveals itself slowly to visitors by taking cues from cabinets of curiosities, pseudoscience and crypt-zoology. Perhaps this would act as a wry comment on my own vulnerable position as an artist assuming various vocational roles that are not my own.
Lots to think about then! For now, the process chiefly involves finding stuff in my studio that might be useful and putting it in a box. But it won’t be long now before the show begins.
The exploration of scent in art is seldom practised by artists and, as a result, isn’t particularly acknowledged by arts venues, organisations or funding bodies. As such it comes with a unique problem – how do you make scent in art seem viable and meaningful when applying for applications and funding?
I don’t particularly have an answer to this as it’s something I’m trying to figure out myself. Recent failures to acquire funding from Arts Council England have centred on not providing evidence of artistic quality. From this, should I deduce that I haven’t described the relevance and viability of scent coherently enough? Or should I attempt to structure the assessment of my work around its visual aesthetics? Arts Council England are not nominally about visual art, but olfactory art is such an underdeveloped and under-evaluated discipline that perhaps leaning a little more on the visual merits of what I do would be advantageous? After all, each perfume is bottled, and each exhibition is visually embellished and themed in order to ape the conventions of the fragrance industry, this in turn allows them to possess a degree of social engagement. Perhaps this describes the degree of artistic quality needed?
Saying that, I have recently been successful in securing a paid residency opportunity in Sheffield, so perhaps persistence and discovering the right opportunity at the right time is what’s required? I do feel somewhat buoyed by the opportunity as it feels like confirmation of the relevance of what I do, and it gives me a degree of confidence going forward.
Given all this, perhaps my attempts at securing funding are essentially no different from the battles many other artists encounter. After all, we’re all navigating our way through our own artistic careers; it’s just that some careers are more fragrant than others.
Being a fine art perfumer, I occupy a somewhat precarious niche. I’m not in a position to claim I am a perfumer as I do not have any direct experience in the profession. Yet through a combination of research, exploration, intuition and a little expert guidance, I have come to understand the perfume making process. And when my unique approach to perfumery is also taken into account, It becomes apparent that I can offer a meaningful exchange of knowledge through perfume making workshops.
The key is transparency. In an effort to manage expectations I begin each workshop with a full disclosure detailing my fine art background, my approach to perfumery and how my workshops are about experimentation and exploring the full possibilities of fragrance from a contemporary art context. Each workshop is framed this way and as such, each participant is aware that they are being guided by someone who is an artist, not a perfumer. This is an important nuance to clarify as it defines and contextualises the entire workshop – establishing the fact that they are all about creating art using the medium of fragrance and the craft of perfumery.
In a physical sense, each participant leaves with a work of art crafted using perfume making techniques; it is nominally a bespoke bottle of 50ml eau de toilette. But they also understand that, while they haven’t been guided by someone with an extensive knowledge of perfumery and fragrance, they have been guided by an artist who has highlighted the capacity fragrance has to accommodate contemporary art concepts; including portraiture, narrative, metaphor and symbolism.
From my point of view, these workshops are among the most satisfying to deliver as I feel that there is a mutual exchange of knowledge between myself and the participants: Many are equipped with basic knowledge of essential oils, aromatherapy and fragrance, and are keen to learn how to apply such knowledge to art and perfume. Whereas I am keen to extend my knowledge of the ingredients found in perfume in order to effectively utilise them from a contemporary art platform.
These last two weeks have seen me deliver no less than 4 perfume making workshops across the UK. Long may they continue.
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.