Artworks, like fragrances, reveal themselves over time; the longer you stay with them, the more nuanced ideas are uncovered. Perfumes are described by their top notes, what confronts you immediately but then fades; middle notes, the core of the scent that you perceive next; and base notes, what gradually reveals itself over time. While experiencing this exhibition it is useful to think of it as a perfume.
The top note of this exhibition is place: some places we know, some we can get to, others we cannot, and some perhaps we don’t want to. The artist collaboration Sans façon and the artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter have recreated scents from specific times and places in people’s lives. Sans façon captures nostalgic memories and Goeltzenleuchter works with refugees to recreate the smells of their now unreachable homes.
The middle notes are all movement-based: travel, migration, immigration, navigation, transportation, moving from one stage of life to the next, navigating through the afterlife, time travel, globalization, trade and the delineation of space are all present. Millie Chen and Evelyn von Michalofski’s satirical work asks you to navigate the tourist experience by scent and think critically about care, travel, leisure and modes of transportation. As experienced through Abbas Akhavan’s planter filled with trees, even if physical objects dictate your movement, smell can defy containment and borders.
The base notes encapsulate broader notions of life, death, myriad worldviews (or worldsenses), subjectivity, colonialism and what we can know through our nose. Rolande Souliere takes smellers on an olfactory journey through the Four Directions, in an installation that encapsulates the artist’s Indigenous worldview with transitions through the stages of life, death and the eternal. Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik traces the real and imagined spatial histories of “curry,” using it as a fragrant stand-in for colonization and notions of both identity and the Other.
Smell can transport and direct in very personal and subjective ways. What smells good, bad, odorous, or like nothing at all differs drastically from one person to the next and is dictated by an entire life of experiences. One smell can be simultaneously familiar, unrecognizable or abject to different people. While sniffing out this exhibition, consider how scent both moves you and grounds you in place.
This exhibition is produced by the Art Gallery of Alberta and curated by Lindsey Sharman.