Today we often spend more time covering up smells than we do experiencing them, but Belgian artist Peter de Cupere is exploring and exposing fragrances in revolutionary new ways. De Cupere creates smell paintings, smell installations, smell moves and smell performances that toy with the relationship between scent and sight.
While often smell is dismissed as a fleeting pleasure or annoyance, De Cupere's works remind us of the poetic powers resting in our nostrils. Scent, more than any other sense, directly affects our limbic systems and prompts a visceral, almost uncontrollable reaction. While sight can be processed from a distance, scent triggers your memory, turns you on, makes you nauseous, even poisons your body... all outside of your consciousness.
In one work, entitled "Sweat," De Cupere collected the sweat of dancers wearing plastic suits as they performed a choreographed dance. He then bottled the sweat and applied it to a wall at the dance company's home base, where it is open for visitors to smell. The work draws off De Cupere's recurring fascination with the social guidelines regarding the shame of our natural body odors and the precautions we take to eradicate sweat and stench. The bottle of sweat captures a usually ineffable "essence" of dancers in motion. You can watch the somewhat disturbing video at the bottom of the page.
In another work, "Tree Virus", viewers enter a plastic dome that has been pumped with intense mixture of peppermint and black pepper, driving those who enter to tears. While normally an artwork that drives you to tears is emotionally moving, this installation skips past the emotional and taps right into the physical. The work elicits a mass reaction that crosses the line between sentimental and biological, poking fun at the alternate ways of constructing a 'moving' work of art.
The list of scent-centric works continues. There is an piano-like instrument called an olfactiano that plays smells instead of notes. A garbage city installation looks like trash but smells like a pleasant garden. And his smoke room is made of over 750,000 cigarette butts. De Cupere's works inspire us to pay more attention to our most under-acknowledged scent, to wake up and smell our own armpits.
Images courtesy of the artist.