Hour-long Workshop: Diary of Smells: Language, Sound and Olfactory Experience

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:: Click to play the video of the Multimedia Arrtist Josely Carvalho's presentation below ::

Video of Diary of Smells: Shards, Josely Carvalho

Josely Carvalho, Multimedia Artist •


Josely Carvalho’s written summary of the ‘Diary of Smells’ workshop is below:

 “The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking itself.”

– Lewis Thomas

Smell can be understood as a definer and transgressor of social structures. The personal quality of smell identification, our poor vocabulary for describing and documenting odors, smell’s evanescent character and the cultural prejudices attached to the sense of smell are some of the challenges encountered in placing olfactory work within a visual- and sound-oriented contemporary art canon. The workshop drew on my new artwork Diary of Smells: Shards, an olfactory art book and installation, in which smells are constructed through the interaction of language, visual imagery and memory. From the shards of broken wine glasses, the memory-smells of a forgotten moment emerged. The smells became the products of texts and images created by several collaborators. The original smells were affection, emptiness, absence, persistence, pleasure and illusion. The workshop took the shape of a laboratory, consisting of a short presentation of my smells/works followed by an olfactory exercise where participants listened to written texts as they smelled the corresponding fragrances. As an example, the text that originated the smell 379A3 Illusion reads:

            We drank from the same wineglass together for an indefinite time

            We never broke it

            One morning, very early, upon getting up, we found our bed surrounded by glass splinters

            Slashing in their piercing remains, they exhaled a smell of sour breast milk

            Was it the forewarning of a premature death?

            And yet, on the shelf, the collection of colored crystal glasses remained intact

            Outside, in the vacant landscape, it was raining over the crags

            Splinters of glass had submerged in the red muddy swamp

            Deserting their lethal force in the viscous ooze

                        The stink of slime penetrated my pores

            I shelter in the pile of splinters that don’t cut anymore

            Their sharp edges now round and smooth hold me with affection

            Are they his hands?

            We now lie down together on the gentle debris        we relive our deceitful love


            Damaged today                             Passion forgotten in the midst of bleeding shards

            In the waves of crashing sea                                  virtually a deleted memory

            We hear from afar between the song of a chickadee

A woman’s voice whispering                          the red of the mud                     blood

                                                                               the odor of the slime                  poison

                                                                               the salt of the water                   oblivion

            – Josely Carvalho, Red Mud (excerpt)        

And my description of this smell is:

A restless smell, with earthy, woody, salty notes. Dirty soil, liqueurous notes, alcohol, excesses of vanilla and chypre, floral but masculine, with geraniums, oak moss and amber, velvet sandalwood notes. Intense touches of patchouli and tuberose bring this smell close to the earth, while civet accents leave it intense and virile. A disturbing mixture reproduces the odors of earthy vomit, wood and sour milk. It pricks the nose and becomes bitter. Its green stalks are like plants rubbed into the earth, with indolic [sic] accents.

During the laboratory, all smells were dealt with in the same manner, provoking an opening of memories and lively personal discussions. We ended our laboratory by reminding ourselves that we breathe about 23,040 times each day and smell with each breath. But if we cover our nose, we stop breathing and smelling. We die.