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On Olfactory Art (written in 2008)

Maki Ueda





In my artistic practice I use smell as a medium to incorporate the olfactory sense in art. Speaking generally about smell, we often think about its practical applications: perfumery, toiletry, flavoring etc. Contrarily, I focus on the parts that are related to memories, emotions, perceptions, and experiences. The smell that I present is like a piece of painting.

Currently I am one of the few artists in the world focusing solely on the olfactory sense. Honorary enough I have been invited to the unique art exhibition with the smells (and of the smells) “If There Ever Was” held in the U.K. in 2008.

While most of the artists/perfumers use the ready-made aroma ingredients, I make the ingredients from scratch. While the commercial world prefers the synthetic ingredients because it's inexpensive, stable, and controllable, I mainly deal with natural ingredients. I consciously do that because I want to work with the smell as a medium, to know what's happening on the material level. Natural smell has a depth that is incomparable with synthetic smell. Synthetic smell consists of the limited amount of components, while natural smell often consists of thousands of components, often uncountable. We know that the strawberry-flavored candy tastes totally different from the real strawberry, for example.



I extract the natural smell from a material with chemistry techniques for retrieving essential oil, distillation, ethanol extraction, oil maceration etc. Sometimes I refer to the chemistry of cooking. I present the smell with the different diffusion techniques like atomizing, perfuming, incensing, and printing (scratch & sniff). The results are presented in a form of installation, live performance, or workshop. I also collaborate with choreographers as a “scent artist” to develop the olfactory interaction in interdisciplinary performance pieces.


Over the last years I've been researching and finding interesting local scents, and extracting them on- site. The focuses are the scents of daily life; food, drinks, materials, persons, and the environment. The result is a series of the perfume works under the name “Aromatic Journey” ( The local culture is being explored and experienced by means of smell. The audience intuitively experiences essences of a culture by smelling. The results are not a perfume to wear, but to smell and trigger one's memory and imagination. For the foreign people they could smell totally exotic, while for local people they could be redefining and zooming into their native scents.

Olfactory preferences are originally locally oriented. They correspond to the evaporating character of aromatic substances. Each culture has its own special smell representation. Nowadays a lot of natural daily-life smells are disappearing because of the drastic changes in lifestyle. The chemically reconstructed smells made by the mass industry are invading us everywhere, and erasing and replacing the natural smells. On a street in Japan you smell Channel 5 just like you do in Europe. I consider this phenomenon as the nasal globalization.

In the past I was making media art works focusing on global awareness and communication. In 2003 I've realized “Hole in the Earth” , an installation in public space with bidirectional permanent streaming of video and audio for connecting two totally different cultures; Indonesia and Holland. When I was in Indonesia for installing, I became interested also to stream the local (good and bad) smells of the street over the internet. This has pushed me into my current works.