Some artists have begun to consider the use of the sense of smell in their work. One such is Nadia Wagner. As part of a new piece she has done on oakmoss, and its associations, she has used perfume materials and written (in Cabinet, an art quarterly) about the history of science's ambitious but essentially unsuccessful attempts to organize and classify smells. Scent is its own world, and it has yet to be uniquely described on its own terms.
The exhibition consists of an interior space containing the scent of oakmoss. She has wiped the interior walls of the gallery space with its scent, using the molecule Evernyl, which is a distinctive component of the extract of oakmoss. As she points out in her exhibition essay, the background smells -- of a decaying waterfront industrial space, lying fallow and revived for the uses of artists, are complex and both pervasive and less noticeable the more time you spend in their midst. We are becoming more aware of the power of the sense of smell on the mind and the body, while at the same time we note how recognition diminishes over the length of exposure. Indeed, as part of the experience of the installation, it is expected that you will comprehend that your ability to register the scent you are surrounded by diminishes the longer you are near it. Scent is always ephemeral, yet renewed by a pause and return. It connects the body and mind, the past and the present but it can only work for a finite period without a break. But once exposure is renewed, it reconnects the body and mind to its experience over time in an uniquely powerful way.
Her work with perfume and its qualities, legends and bodily effects has been grown in collaboration with and education gained from trained perfumers (such as Christophe Laudamiel). It is not surprising that she turned her attention to oakmoss. The element of oakmoss has an poetic, elegiac association for those who are interested in perfume. We know that it is a rare and proscribed material that has given a unique earthiness, edge and charismatic depth to classics such as Mitsouko. I happen to have some oakmoss absolute from Yugoslavia, have used it personally, and realize more than ever now that this is an increasingly rare and precious experience. How sad to learn from the exhibition article that the best remaining natural sources are unobtainable because they are located near the town of Chernobyl, and that the material has a tendency to soak up radioactive particles.
The exhibition is at Cabinet, at 300 Nevins Street, until August 8th. The Cabinet exhibition space is in an old warehouse on the Gowanus Canal, and their magazine is an interesting combination of literary and visual ideas, both intellectual and sensual. This exhibition article "Notes on Scent" is in issue 32, whose overall theme was Fire. Examples of the other issues' themes are Deception, Magic, Insecurity, Ruins, Chance, the Sea...
above photo from Urban Olfactics 1A/1B exhibition essay on Nadia Wagner.