November 21, 2014 Repository 162: Learning My Olfactory Alphabet | Art as Fragrance Posted In: art practice, olfactory art

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” Patrick Süskind, “Perfume, The Story of a Murderer

Catherine Haley Epstein, detail of “My Pharmacy” courtesy the artist.

Catherine Haley Epstein, detail of “My Pharmacy” courtesy the artist.

Over 20 years after reading two works of literature that permanently stained my brain (in the best way) and resonated with me like none other, I am thrilled to announce I will be attending a workshop this January in Mandy Aftel’s studio in Berkeley, California! The two novels are Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, The Story of a Murderer, and Italo Calvino’s short story “The Name, The Nose”. After reading these two delightful works I became astutely aware of the sense of smell – and if anyone truly knows me they will know that I can smell a rat, a cat and a carnation from a mile away. Mandy Aftel is one of the premier independent fragrance artists in the United States. She was nominated for a Fifi Award (the perfume world’s equivalent of an Oscar), has designed a personal fragrance for the likes of Madonna, has been asked by Stanford University to develop a perfume for mummies (rad), and has worked with numerous 5-star chefs on advancing flavor in cuisine.

Serendipity has never felt so real when this opportunity came up a few months ago. I have been working for the past several years on the tasks of Psyche in my art practice. I’m currently working on the task of “Filling the Flask”.  Aphrodite asks her to fill a crystal flask in a treacherous waterfall. Psyche freaks out, and Zeus comes to her rescue in the form of a bird, an eagle precisely. The eagle is supposed to represent the power of focus and the importance of forgetting things to keep your “eye on the prize” so to speak. The waterfall in some translations is supposedly waters that flow to the River Styx, which are also known as the waters of forgetfulness.

So therein lies the connection to fragrance. Fragrance is typically linked to memory – it reminds you of something. What if it could help you forget something? A fragrance is never the real thing – it’s always the absence of that thing….the trail of it, never the thing. So the rose scent is never the rose. The physical rose is totally forgotten. Another way to slice this is I will be designing different conceptual fragrances: one will be “Forget Yesterday”, another “Forget Last Year” and a third “Forget Seven Years Ago”. You get the gist. I think there is true benefits to forgetting certain things. Dangerous waters to tread though, as there are definitely things one would never want to forget (e.g first kiss, child’s voice, home address).

I tried to make some fragrance mixtures last year after years of being curious, being inspired by a visit to Portland’s “Imaginary Author’s” studio, and after reading one of Mandy Aftel’s seminal books. Sadly I was unable to create anything of consequence. In fact out of the eight or so “chords” I produced, I think I gagged on all but one scent. I don’t know whether this is my sensitive nose or the fact that I like to learn through experimentation and instinct versus directions. I can’t wait to gain the principals and set those straight in January before returning to the “lab”. Just like knowing in painting that the thin mediums need to be used before the fat ones on a canvas, there are likely orders and ways of mixing these scents that one must learn before attempting. As with everything though I leap before I look. Here’s to leaping!!!

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