You may be familiar with exhibitions that have presented perfume as olfactory art. However, olfactory art is a genre of fine art pertaining to smell that traces its roots back to the avant-garde, early in the twentieth century. A new exhibition at Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland, establishes these historical origins of the genre while showcasing a wide range of practices to the present day that could be understood under this rubric.

In the context of upcoming research on the sense of smell in contemporary art practice, Ashraf Osman recently conducted interviews with two key players in the realm: Brian Goeltzenleuchter, an artist based in San Diego, CA, and Robert Blackson, a curator based in Philadelphia, PA. The interviews focused on the norms, processes, and institutions that promote or hinder the use of the sense of smell in art.

New Materialism is a growing movement rooted in neo-disciplines such as gender studies or science & technology studies. It challenges contemporary discourse as Karen Barad points out: “Language matters. Discourse matters. Culture matters. There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter.”

“Interdisciplinarity” is the common theme of three videos Bern University of Applied Sciences recently posted on YouTube. One of the videos features scent culture and related research projects based at Bern University of the Arts and the Business School, two departments at Bern University of Applied Sciences. So far, the interdisciplinary approach has brought together professionals from diverse disciplines including social science, media art, visual communication, management research, psychology and curating. 

The common slogan “dress for success” underlines the wide-held view that what you wear matters in everyday life. It originates in Erving Goffman’s studies on the social world as a stage. Accordingly, individuals interact as performers. In the context of management and organization studies this mode of interaction has later been labeled as “impression management”. It is obvious that workplace attire is used to manage the impressions of others. Studies show that women are more interested in clothing and experience more “appearance labor” when compared to men.*

Individuals who want to be successful in today’s career landscape have to go beyond solid performance and strong results; personal branding is an increasingly important factor as well. Impression management plays a key role in today’s professional world, and one’s olfactory appearance is an integral part thereof. Which strategies and intentions one wants to achieve with personal scent, however, have only been researched casually, at best, so far.

Thus, the leading German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, recently discussed the use of certain perfumes by representatives of a political youth organization. What message does a user of Tommy Hilfiger perfume want to convey? According to the FAZ this young politician wants to identify himself as a performance oriented achiever who spends his money on clothes that are distinctly designed for this social group.

Explore the old town of Bern by nose: How does Bern smell today? What stories do the fragrant and the foul smells in the city tell? How does smell permeate life in the city?
The Urban Scent Walk explores the old town of Bern as a smellscape and an olfactory exhibition: informative, discursive, performative. The guided walk opens up unfamiliar facets in spaces of everyday life. The Situationists spoke of “dérive”, meaning the exploration of cities by wandering through varied environments: natural scents, cloying designer fragrances, fresh site-specific interventions, and cosmetic urban smells.
Odors are hardly ever specifically noted, although they interact with each breath: in a direct manner, volatile molecules produce the moods that characterize the atmosphere of the city. “Smells make it possible to identify locations and to identify with places,” says the philosopher Gernot Böhme. In other words, the nose brings experience that the eyes, mouth and ears are shut out of.