In these experimental installations, artists are exploring how scent relates to place and memory.
Mappling the Italian city’s aromas
It’s not unusual for big-city dwellers to turn to Twitter to complain about the foul smells imprinted on certain neighbourhoods. During last April’s Milan Design Week, designers Olivia Alice Clemence and Kate McLean turned this activity on its head by inviting pilgrims to tweet the city’s sweeter aromas with the hashtag #milansmells. Then, with Clemence’s distillation system, a handcrafted piece she has employed in multiple experiments, they bottled Milan’s olfactory hot spots. In one trial, they dropped the paper packaging of a local pizzeria’s fresh-baked pie into the glass beaker and steamed it to release an earthy tomato and basil scent.
They plotted out the smells on a cityscape that covered a dining table at the Magazzini, a creative hub in the Tortona district. The street grid, drawn in black marker, was filled in with paper replicas of local buildings that diffused their corresponding smells. Visitors breathed in a tiny espresso bar’s rich notes, and the mini-Duomo’s incense. Whether they knew it or not, they were triggering the brain’s olfactory bulb, that tightly wired neighbour to the hippocampus, where smells forge memories.
A perfume for a cult film
Filmmaker Mark Harris, along with perfumer Josh Meyer, takes merchandising that extra step with a fragrance based on his 2011 sci-fi thriller, The Lost Children, about a New York socialite who joins an extraterrestrial commune. It mingles lemon and clean musk aromas of linen and birch leaf with such exotic notes as castoreum and ambroxan (extracted from beaver and sperm whale scent glands, respectively). Co-produced by the Institute
for Art and Olfaction, a Los Angeles lab that elevates perfumery to an art form, 24 bottles were distributed at a screening of the film, where one audience member remarked how it added a “weird, erotic tone.”
An art object that captures the Venetian lagoon
For Acqua Alta (translation: “high water” ), Italian designers Giorgia Zanellato and Daniele Bortotto collaborated with perfumer Lorenzo Dante Ferro to concoct a scent that captures the essence of the constantly flooded city of Venice. They infused this lagoon scent into three ceramic cylinders – a nod to the bricole, the wooden poles used to steer gondolas – surrounded by a specially crafted vessel of chartreuse Murano glass. The art piece launched at Salone del Mobile last April, and then the design showroom Rubelli exhibited it during last summer’s Venice Art Biennale.