Portraiture is known as a visual art genre. Yet, working with body odors has given rise to artistic works that explore new sensory territories. A lecture with Claus Noppeney at Columbia College in Chicago discussed this development: Can a smell represent a person? How is an olfactory portrait experienced in an art space? How relevant is the process? …
Olfactory Portraiture: Body odor as artistic practice
Current artistic practice increasingly engages with the sense of smell. Its ephemeral qualities require a new interplay of the senses and stimulate sensory modes that disrupt and challenge the established perceptual hierarchy. In particular, body odors mobilize artistic practices that represent our relation with the world and others. Products that tame and repress the animalic smells of armpits, genitals and mouths are an integral part of mainstream culture. This culture of an ”olfactory blandness and sameness” (McLuhan & Parker 1968) sharply contrasts with artistic practices that explore and present body odor as an olfactory identity that can represent a person. In 1993, Clara Ursitti presented a collection of her own vaginal and menstrual fluids as
an olfactory selfportrait titled ”Eau Claire” (Drobnick 2002). Since then, the idea of the olfactory portrait has been taken up and varied by other artists. This multiplicity and variety of approaches calls for further debate. current paper. Moreover, major exhibition projects of the above mentioned artistic positions provide an opportunity to critically reflect on the social interactions that this artistic practice promotes. Artistic positions featured included: Brian Goeltzenleuchter, Lucy McRae, Michael Müller, Maeva Rosset, Sarah Schoenfeld, Jana Sterbak, Sissel Tolaas, Clara Ursitti and Martynka Wawrtyniak. Following the presentation of the artistic position the talk zoomed out and showed the broader social, cultural as well as economic relevance of body odor that can be traced back to the beginnings of Western thought.
Thanks a lot to Dr Debra Parr for making this possible as well as to Dr Amy Mooney for hosting the event with her MFA class.
Drobnick, J. (2002). Clara Ursitti: scents of a woman. Tessera, 32, 85–97.
McLuhan, M., & Parker, H. (1968). Through the vanishing point: space in poetry and painting. New York: Harper & Row.