Odorama on car smells at Mediamatic

We have been looking at cars as “olfactory artifact” for quite a while. In fact, the  automobile sector is part of a larger interest in the aesthetic and experience economy. Are car manufacturers in the transportation business?, one might ask. Really?


It was Bob Lutz, a former Vice Chairman of General Motors, Executive Vice President of Ford, Executive Vice President of Sales at BMW, and the head of Global Product Development at Chrysler, who bluntly positioned General Motors in the entertainment business:

What we may be had to relearn as a company is that we’re not in the transportation business, we are in the arts and entertainment business. And that’s what explains a vehicle like the Pontiac Solstice, which I think is the first expression of a new, less analytical, more emotion-driven product strategy.

Following this perspective the experience and the meaning of the car becomes important: What cultural practices, objects, products, discourses can be identified that address the olfactory dimension of “automobility”? Thus, we focus on one product of today’s consumer culture and reveal a multiplicity of smelly references. Our studies demonstrate how different meanings, interpretations and functions of the smelly car have been negotiated since its creation in the 19th century.

Car & olfactory nostalgia

However more recently, the very same Bob Lutz made clear that the age of automobility is about to cease:

It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era. The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile. Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules.

Given the significance of the car for Western lifestyle this scenario adds a second dimension to the car as an olfactory artifact: nostalgia!

Odorama: Car smells

Most aspects have recently been discussed in an essay.  The upcoming Odorama at Mediamatic provides an opportunity to take the line of argument a bit further and place the research in a stimulating context. In fact, Odorama curator Caro Verbeek took the initiative to bring together a promising mix of backgrounds & interests in the the smell of cars: iScent scent marketeers Jorg Hemp and Matthijs Bastiaan Medendorp as well as car freak Justus Tomlow and Claus Noppeney. Promoting the event Caro Verbeek, who has already organized numerous Odoramas, calls this program: “Our most original edition so far”.  Let’s smell the car!

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