Smell and Art
Maki Ueda

What is it that we are smelling, what does it make you imagine, what does it make you feel? Could we incorporate the olfactory sense in art? Could smell be a medium carrying information?

This course will deal with these questions through a combination of lectures, workshops, intermediate presentations and a final presentation.

In this course we will start with looking at examples of art and the olfactory sense, then we will discuss the potential of the olfactory sense in art.

The workshops will first focus on fieldwork and on observing the environment with the olfactory sense. You will smell a lot and learn how to communicate about smell with others, using a basic vocabulary for analyzing and expressing the character of a smell.

Secondly we will extract smells from raw materials like soup, cheese burgers, old books, rubber tyres, flowers, and smelly T-shirts. You will learn how to do this yourself and how to compose new smells (in the most simple way).


In this course you will

  • (have to) smell a lot
  • learn about smell and olfaction
  • find another (hidden) dimension in the world
  • become aware of smell and that leads to a joyful, healthy, and long life (!)

There are many ways of using smell in art. You might want to perfume orange smell to your orange-colored painting, or you might want to add rose smell in an exhibition space where you show an installation that symbolizes love.

Most of the people only see the practical side of smell. Smell is like an additives that gives a good side-effect: it functions to make you feel relaxed or happy.

What we want to achieve in this course is a bit deeper than this.

Smell has a great potential as a medium. Let's use this course as a place to experiment. We'll focus onthe theme smell and communication. You'll receive an final assignment (mini-project) under the theme of "olfactory game".

Kodo is a Japanese traditional art of olfactory game.

more information about Kodo:

Maki-style Kodo demonstration, 02/02/10

Theme of the game: a poem by Basho

An ancient pond
A frog plunges
The sound of water

Incense used:
smell 1: Juniper tree
smell 2: Shoko (Japanese temple incense)
smell 3: Frankinsence from Oman
smell -: Jinko (Japanese incense often used in Kodo)

Team A: Ivan, Huan, Pablo, Maki
Team B: Melissa, Orfan, Jelle, James

After the each round of smelling, participants guessed which smell it was. The team that made more correct answeres was allowed to let the frog 'jump' once. The team with the frog that jumped further away from the start line wins.

Team A

Continuing from DAY 4

* vinyl

* cover jacket of the vinyl

Yerry: clay

Willem: Lapsang Souchong Tea, Tobbac

Different experiments by Willem to impregnate smells onto the papers

Making conbustible incense (1)
aromatic material: fermented coconut ??? (by Pablo and Juan)
It smells like sheep cheese.

1 teaspoon fermented coconut
1/2 teaspoon makko
1/4 teaspoon charcoal powder (ground Japanese charcoal)

Making conbustible incense (2)
aromatic material: tobbac (by Willem)

Making non-combustible incense (Neriko)
aromatic material: violet tea (by Yerry)

1 teaspoon violet tea
1/2 teaspoon honey + more

They are all 'binder' for making Neriko.

Checking the smell of non-combustible incense made by Yerry

It smelled like bitter black tea, not quite like violet tea. So I've measured the temperature, then it turned out to be too high: 200 degrees!

So I've lowered internal temperature of the burner to 80 degrees ---> smelled more 'sweet' than just bitter black tea

Sharing Willem's project in development.

Checking extracted smells.

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