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Art & the Power of Smell
Top 10 Olfactory Artists to Watch for in 2022
Feature 08 Aug 2022

Top 10 Olfactory Artists to Watch for in 2022

Smell can be such an incredible and powerful tool to our brain, it can change our moods, revive memories and unlock some of the best moments of your life. Imagine scent paired with art or used as a medium: sniffing, scenting, just allowing an intake of information that speaks to us without words, yet allows us to form a dictionary of aromas. Kant took against smell, but his philosophical idea of an intellectually primitive sense suited to animals has been systematically dismounted over the past years, particularly when we realised Coronavirus affected smell, we started to acknowledge even more its importance. Kant named the sense of smell ‘’a distant taste,’’ an alliance that conveys a truth, as all senses are at some degree allied.

Despite its presumed marginality, odour was an interesting medium to be explored by a number of artists, from modern art to nowadays. References to smells and olfactory practices can be found in art history and literature, for example Paul Gauguin who preceded the aesthetics of olfactory art in his travel jurnal after the first visit to Tahiti. He mentioned ‘’Noa Noa’’ (fragrant in Maori) describing the scent of a Tahitian woman. However one of the earliest documented olfactory happenings in art, was Marcel Duchamp’s 1938 Surrealist Exhibition in Paris, where an installation filled the space with an aroma of roasting coffee. Since then a number of figures have contributed to olfactory art’s growing thesaurus: from Ed Kienholz’s Beanery multisensory artwork, Takako Saito’s ‘’Smell Chess’’ and Jannis Kounellis with his coffee installations in the 60s, the smell of blood in Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom and Walter De Maria’s musty earth installation in the 70es to Joseph Beuys disrupting the systems of representation with the material alchemy, stating: ‘’everything that concerns creativity is invisible.’’

Our culture and society values material objects, but there are artists who use olfactory as a medium, as the invisible part of their work; artists developing a radical language, through critique, using banal materials such as coffee, spices, beeswax and developed fragrances, or by simply collecting odours and creating ‘’smellscapes.’’

Sissel Tolaas Norwegian artist and researcher working with smell since the early 90s.

In her Berlin studio- lab, Sissel is exploring the topics of smell as a medium of artistic expression and tool of communication. She has been collecting and investigating smells from all over the world, creating archives of smell recordings. Sissel invented a lexicon called Nasalo including over 2,500 words and metaphors of humans responding to odours.

Anicka Yi – Korean conceptual artist, known for her experimental work at the intersection of fragrance, cuisine, and science.

Though Yi is merging technology and biology, her work is often olfactory, working with materials as diverse as bacteria, sweat, honey or tempura-fried flowers. She creates installations designed to deconstruct our visual culture. In 2016 Yi was awarded the Hugo Boss Prize as a recognition of her experimental body of work.

Maki Ueda Japanese olfactory artist, based in Japan and The Netherlands.

Ueda is interested in the possibility of creating strong olfactory experiences by combining extracts of daily life scents, such as foods or ambient aromas and body odours. She has been teaching and giving workshops about the sense of smell and taste at different institutions, such as The Tokyo Art University or The Royal Academy of The Hague. She is the winner of the 2022 Art and Olfaction Award – prize honouring the significant contributions to global public awareness of artisan, independent and experimental practices with scent.

Clara Ursitti – Canadian – Italian artist based in Glasgow, working with fragrance since the early 90s.

Prioritising the non-visual, Ursitti creates installations and interventions that deal with the psychological aspects of scent in the social space. She plays with the subjective reactions around ‘’good or bad’’ odours often incorporating her body fluids in so called self-portrait works, such as ’’Eau Claire’’ – using her own vaginal and menstrual secretions secured in a solution of alcohol and coconut oil.

Peter de Cupere Belgian olfactory artist who lives and works in Antwerp.

De Cupere started using scent more than 20 years ago. He explores the relation between visual and olfactory through smell-installations, video scent-installations, scent paintings and three-dimensional drawings. He invented  the first working scent piano, called ‘’Olfactiano’’ and in 2018, the artist received the Art and Olfaction Award.

Wolfgang Georgsdorf Austrian-born Berlin-based media artist and author, exploring the intersection of sculpture, music and research .

Georgsdorf started to deal with olfactory art in the 1980s and showed one of his installations at the Ars Electronica Festival in 1986. He invented ‘’Smeller,’’ an olfactory machine or functional sculpture made to perform precise sequences of smells developed in collaboration with perfumer Geza Schön. He is the recipient of the Art and Olfaction Award / Sadakichi Award 2017.  

Klara Ravat Spanish olfactory artist and experimental filmmaker based in Berlin.

Ravat’s work plays between scent design and artistic projects related to the sense of smell and olfaction. Out of passion for scents, she became a self-thought indie perfumer. She’s the founder of Smell Lab, where she’s teaching regularly and organizes public workshops.

Ernesto Neto Brazilian conceptual artist, based in Rio de Janeiro.

Neto is known for creating large organic sculptural installations out of textiles and spice, works which are often interactive with an intense olfactory quality.

His practice explores the ephemeral environments inspired by nature through tactile, and biomorphic structures, aesthetically pleasant, but conceived as an experience to the public.

Gayil NallsAmerican interdisciplinary artist and theorist, living in New York City.

Her work explores the anthropology of smell as a method of understanding human experience. For over seventeen years she’s been researching olfaction and its relationship to culture, neuroscience and other disciplines. She’s the founder of World Sensorium Conservancy (WSC), addressing the biodiversity loss and sustainable conservation of world flora through art, science, and education.

Brian Goeltzenleuchter American conceptual artist and educator.

Goeltzenleuchter works at the intersection of digital technologies, olfactory art, and social engagement. He focuses on how personal and cultural narratives can be expressed through the sense of smell. He runs ‘’Scents of Exile,’’ an ongoing project based on interviews with refugees and other immigrants about their scent memories of home, which he transforms into fragrances using cosmetic-grade materials.

Text by Maria Nitulescu


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