If you were to curate 5 scents that artists and creative people should smell —“blind” or unlabeled—to explore the possibilities of scent, what would they be? Perfumes, raw materials, anything!
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.
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
“The study of smell requires one to exit the realm of the beautiful to descend into what German philosophers used to call the Sublime, and come face to face with the enduring strangeness of raw sensation.”
—Luca Turin, The Secret of Scent
If this photo had a scent, what would it be?
I’m imagining a blend of grapefruit, osmanthus, carrot seed, vetiver, maybe a little patchouli and jasmine, with something dry and a bit dusty.
I finished a scent, but I prefer it as a stand-alone smell than as a perfume to wear myself. I’ve been spraying it on the inside of bell jars to lift and revisit over the course of an evening.
Lavender is a polarizing scent, surprisingly to me! It’s one of my first scent loves, but when I ask people about the smells they like or dislike, a lot of people declare that they hate lavender. In perfumery, lavender comes in two distinctive forms: essential oil (steam distilled), which is a top note that has a more medicinal, herby aroma. This is what most people think of when they think of lavender. Then there’s lavender absolute (long story short: dissolved), which is a middle note with a softer floral aroma. It smells more like the actual flower—which is all over the place here in the PNW. 💜
Have you ever tried to sit with a smell when you don’t know what it is, and describe it without first trying to find out what it is or how someone else describes it? It almost feels like you have your hands tied behind your back, and you just can’t “reach” it. It makes you realize how limited our language for scent is! But if you let yourself stay in that space for a few minutes to observe the scent, observe your response, and observe the thoughts the smell evokes, you can arrive at some interesting ideas you otherwise wouldn’t have.