Sunday, December 10, 2006

"The FEAR of Smell -- The smell of FEAR" Exhibit

Today's topic is a slight departure from our recent perfume reviews. But in the name of science, I share with you information that you may choose to use, skip, or ignore. If you have a delicate constitution, you may wish to stop reading here. Know that our next post will be of a more, shall we say, palatable, nature.

I have always been interested in the intersection between the the art of making perfumes and the emotional impact of scents on our psyche. But what about actually making art from body odors? Is it possible to capture the essence of a body scent and put it on public display in an artistic setting?

This is exactly what Norwegian artist and researcher Sissel Tolaas has done in her exhibit currently on display at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Titled, "The FEAR of smell -- the smell of FEAR," this exhibit is part of a show called, "Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art."

In a high-tech version of scratch-n-sniff, visitors can smell the odors of nine male scent donors. These men, who suffered from extreme phobias, were asked to touch a cotton-swab to their armpits at the time they were most afraid. These scents were then chemically reconstituted, mixed with wall paint, and applied to the panels in the exhibit. Visitors can touch the paint and smell the fear. For more, please read the Albany Times Union article.

In a related article, "Senses: A Whiff of Fear Can Sharpen a Woman's Thinking," Nicholas Bakalar (New York Times April 11, 2006) explains that a whiff of fear can actually make women better at recognizing useful information. In a slightly different version of smelling the scents of armpits, women in this study were asked to smell the sweat pads of sweat collected from volunteers during a frightening video, pads collected during a neutral video, and pads with no sweat at all. The women performed word association tasks, and those women smelling the fear pads were more accurate than those in the other two groups. Denise Chen, the study's lead author, surmised that it was the smell of fear that improved performance. Click here for the article.

What does this mean to those of us who love perfume on ourselves and others? Are we effectively disguising our true emotional states? Is this a good thing? As always, I am very interested to know your thoughts on this topic...


The Scented Salamander said...

And I have to visit your blog to hear about that local exhibit:)

I will most certainly plan to visit.

christine said...

I'd love to hear your impressions after your visit!!!