Smell Feel Match

23 March-5 May 2019, Experiment Zukunft, Kunsthalle Rostock, DE
curated by Susanne Jaschko

Smell Feel Match is an olfactory performative experiment that explores feelings and judgments towards others’ body scent. With body scent I am referring to human underarm scent in every day life. Body scent is very diverse. It can be quite natural or altered with added fragrant products. Overall, it is always influenced by human activity (e.g. smoking).

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Smelling anonymized body scent samples, test run, January 2019, TOP e.V., Berlin. Photo: Ali El-Darsa

Smell Feel Match builds on the idea that affect [*] plays a crucial role in human social life since it evolves within social interactions and shapes them in return. This participatory olfactory art experiment investigates affect through the perception of body scent, as body scent is vital for navigating inter-human relations. Recent research in neuroscience, psychology, and neurobiology on human olfactory communication demonstrates that we can pick up important cues about each other – from emotions to health status – from body scent.

Crucially, Smell Feel Match lets you explore their multiplicity of feelings–potentially contradictory ones – towards others’ body scent, and collects them in a questionnaire. Drawing on the Geneva Emotion and Odor Scale (2009) which explores the linguistic meaning of individual feeling experiences towards scents, the categorization of feelings in the questionnaire goes beyond a small set of basic emotions (for instance those proposed by psychologist Paul Ekman (1984)), and offers more than a bi-dimensional framework of positive-negative or active-passive. I expanded the Geneva Emotion and Odor Scale by affective terms that she collected through a questionnaire at her olfactory dating performance Love Sweat Love (2016). If individual scent preferences and feelings when experiencing others’ body scent matches with those of other participants, matches are immediately made between them, and their friendship potential is announced.

Smell Feel Match also responds to contemporary practices of othering which are omnipresent in the current geopolitical climate of uncertainty and fear. By scrutinizing the perception of body scent, this project fosters awareness of others’ body scent, and self-awareness about our personal judgements towards others. Smell Feel Match spurs the participants to ask themselves the following questions: How do I feel when perceiving someone’s smell? What does body scent disclose about my perception of others? What role does body scent play in including and excluding people from my social circle? The decontextualized nature of the encounters with body scent – through the anonymized presentation of the samples in small glass jars – intends to counteract practices of othering that relate to indifference and aversion.

Against this backdrop, Smell Feel Match proposes a unique opportunity to explore olfactory judgment of new and existing friendships and to find new friends based on common body scent preferences and judgments.

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Evaluation of others’ anonymized body scent samples, test run, January 2019, TOP e.V., Berlin. Photo: Ali El-Darsa

[*] Affect is understood “[as] a matter of dynamic, intensive relations unfolding between human actors in and with complex environmental settings, material formations, (urban) landscapes and designed spaces, various artifacts, technologies and media.” (Röttger-Rössler, B & Slaby, J 2018, Affect in Relation: Families, Places, Technologies, Routdledge, Oxon & New York, p.3.)

Scientific feedback: Ilja Croijmans, Garmt DijksterhuisSabrina Meissner,  Marie-Celine Schulte

Programming: plomlompom, Kaustubh Srikanth

Photos test run: Ali El-Darsa

Website Design: Kaustubh Srikanth

Many thanks to all participants to the test run and their feedback!