The Smell of Revolution

Lisa Kirk Revolution perfume

After Erica So’s thought-provoking Experimental Scent Summit talk on experimental scents for protesters in Hong Kong, I revisited this perfume by Lisa Kirk: Revolution. The notes listed are “tear gas, blood, smoke, urine, burned rubber, body odor, and more…” And that’s what I wanted to smell. But I was disappointed—the perfume is perfectly palatable, even pleasant. It paints for me a nostalgic vision of a farm shed in rural East Texas, with scents of old mellowed gasoline, deteriorating rubber tires, but mostly, clean wood smoke. I thought, if this is supposed to be the smell of “revolution,” then it is a revolution that has been made into runway fashion—lifted from its context, made into a creative brief for an ambiguously “rebellious” aesthetic, and given a pretty, anonymous face.

Reading more about the project, I realized that this was entirely the point. From a write-up on madperfumista.com: “Kirk’s art practice centers on the appropriation of radical political signifiers by corporations to sell consumer products, thereby usurping the symbolic power of these signs in the support of capitalism.”

In 2010 Lisa Kirk released a commercial for the fragrance, shot like the mass-market perfume commercials we’ve all seen: moody music plays as a male and female model run in slow motion through a city, meeting for a moment of romantic tension before one of them pulls out a bottle of perfume. In this commercial, the models run through the streets in chic motorcycle boots, pull off their ski masks, and with their gloved hands reveal the perfume—a bottle styled to look like a pipe bomb. Revolution.

Olfactory Art: “On Forgetting”

If you had bottles in your medicine cabinet that you could sniff to help you forget something, what would they smell like? Take a minute to describe it for yourself.

This is Catherine Haley Epstein’s On Forgetting, which I had the great pleasure to smell last night at Fumerie! It was interesting to talk with the artist about scent outside the bounds of perfume-wearing: from scented spaces to scent as creative practice to conceptual olfactory art, like this piece. I loved the smoky choya nakh in Forgetting 20 Years Ago and the unexpected sweetness of the clove in Forgetting 10 Years Ago. A poetic and generative way to think about the process of forgetting—especially since scent is so often touted as a way to evoke long-forgotten memories.

Primary image and cabinet image courtesy of the artist.

Nose Dive

Catherine Haley Epstein‘s new book Nose Dive: A Book for the Curious Seeking Potential Through their Noses is a compelling jumping-off point for anyone curious about how to use their nose in creative work—whether you’re trying to create scent art (not the same thing as perfume) or simply adding something new to your creative practice.

It was especially interesting to read a survey of scent art projects, which Epstein breaks down into 4 general categories: conceptual (scent is suggested but not literally present), material (scent is present as an enhancer or counterpoint to the primary medium/piece), actual juice (love this phrase; it means that the actual scent is the primary medium), and observation (collecting and cataloging smells).

Purchase the book here: catherinehaleyepstein.com/shop