I smell a rat

30.09.2019, StudioXX, Montreal (CA)
12.12.2019, Goethe Institute Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore (IN)

This project is part of a series that sets out to inquire into the political and aesthetic (1) potential of human body scents (2).

While all body scents remain stigmatised in Western culture, female body scents have a history of particularly negative associations. In this workshop female participants critically engage with gender-related perceptions on body scents, through a presentation, discussions, and hands-on experiments. With special attention to social and cultural norms in relation to body scents perceived as female, they explore the following questions: How do we react towards women‘s body scents? Can we overcome potential prejudice or even disgust, by cultivating curiosity?

Sequence:
1. Introduction to the theme and each other
2. Introduction to the science of smell
3. Collection of our body scents and discussion
4. Presentation and discussion: Historical and contemporary examples of taboos surrounding female body scents in Western culture
5. Smell exercise with chemical and organic products

(1) I refer to the philosophical discourse about sense experience. I draw upon Baumgarten’s definition of aesthetics as a “science of perception” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2014), as well as Fisher’s definition of aesthetics as “[…] a complex ‘product’ of discourse, [which] constitutes an experiential ‘process’ entailing apprehension” (Fisher 1995, p. 27).

(2) By ‘body scents’, I refer to the entire spectrum of natural human body odors and their modification through any added products such as shower gel, aftershave, essential oils or the like. Overall, all activities (such as reading, exercising, working, etc.), as well as food and health situation have an effect on our body scents.

Fixing cotton pads under a participant’s armpit with masking tape, Montreal, Photo: Gabriel Beck

Ice-breaking exercise, Montreal, Photo: Gabriel Beck

Montrealparticipants reflecting upon their smelling experience of other participants’ anonymously collected body scents, Photo: Gabriel Beck

Montreal participants smell unidentified chemical and organic products to test their unpleasantness/disgust sensitivity, Photo: Gabriel Beck

 

Ice-breaking exercise, Bangalore, Photo: Magali Couffon de Trevros

Bangalore participant collecting her body scent, Photo: Magali Couffon de Trevors

Bangalore participant smelling an anonymously collected body scent sample, Photo: Magali Couffon de Trevros

Bangalore participants reflecting upon their smelling experience of other participants’ anonymously collected body scents, Photo: Magali Couffon de Trevros

 

 

Credits:
Curator Montreal: Natacha Clitandre, StudioXX
Advice on olfactory matters: Marc vom Ende
Photos Bangalore: Magali Couffon de Trevros
Photos Montreal: Gabriel Beck