Smell Feel Match

23 March-5 May 2019, Experiment Zukunft, Kunsthalle Rostock, DE

Smell Feel Match is a performative experiment that explores feelings and assumptions about others’ body scent*. It is part of a project series which investigates the politics of body scent** in different cities.

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Smelling anonymized body scent samples, opening, Experiment Zukunft, Kunsthalle Rostock. Photo: Fritz Beise/Kunsthalle Rostock

Smell Feel Match is based on the claim that body scents affect both the individual and the collective body experience as our bodies react to each other’s body scents. Thus, body scents play a crucial role in social interaction. Recent research in neuroscience and psychology on human olfactory communication also demonstrates that we can pick up important cues about each other – from feelings to health status – from body scent. 

The essence of Smell Feel Match is that participants explore their own body scent preferences as well as their multiplicity of feelings – potentially contradictory ones – towards others’ body scents, and collect them in a paper and online questionnaire. Thus, Smell Feel Match provides participants with an opportunity to explore their olfactory judgment of new and existing friendships and enables them to find new friends. If an individuals’ body scent preferences are met with his/her/their experience of another participant’s body scent, as well as if two individuals feel similar or in the same way about each other’s body scent, matches are immediately made between them. As a result, their friendship potential is announced via SMS. Participants are invited to question the algorithmic basis upon which they matched, as well as the corresponding friendship potential messages.

For the exploration of feelings in the online questionnaire, the artist draws from the “Geneva Emotion and Odor Scale“ (GEOS). The GEOS provides a model with which to examine feelings experienced through smells in six different dimensions, with corresponding feeling terms, and thus goes beyond the traditional feeling classification as positive-negative or active-passive. The artist added a new dimension – ambiguous – to the GEOS and developed new feeling terms, as well as changed or rejected terms. She incorporated new terms that she collected in her olfactory dating performance Love Sweat Love (2016)and the Smell Feel Match (2019) test run.

On the one hand, Smell Feel Match critically questions specific research paradigms that are applied in the fields of psychology and neuroscience to explore the human perception of body scent. One of them is the focus on “pure” body odor by ruling out the use of any fragrant products. In addition, participants who regularly consume alcohol, smoke, take medication or hormones, eat garlic, onion or curry spices, as well as people with abnormal olfaction and women during specific times of their hormonal cycle, are often excluded from laboratory studies. All of these restrictions prove problematic in that they impede insights into the perception of the majority of people’s regular body scent signatures. Against this background, Smell Feel Match offers the possibility to explore the diversity of body scent to anyone who is interested.

On the other hand, Smell Feel Match responds to contemporary practices of “othering,” which implies the demarcation of a person or group as “different” and not belonging to one’s own social group. This mental process seems to be ubiquitous in the current geopolitical climate of uncertainty and anxiety. By scrutinizing the perception of body scent, this project fosters awareness of others’ body scents, and self-awareness about our personal judgments towards others. Smell Feel Match spurs participants to ask themselves the following questions: How do I feel when perceiving someone’s smell? What does a body scent experience disclose about my perception of others? What role do body scents 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”.

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Exploration of others’ anonymized body scent samples, Experiment Zukunft, Kunsthalle Rostock. Photo: Fritz Beise/Kunsthalle Rostock

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Exploration of others’ anonymized body scent samples, Experiment Zukunft, Kunsthalle Rostock. Photo: Fritz Beise/Kunsthalle Rostock

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

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

*** Body scent is understood as the entire spectrum of human body odors, as they occur in everyday life. Body scents can be rather natural, or modified by added products such as shower gel, aftershave, essential oils, etc. Overall, all activities (such as working, exercising, food, etc.) have an effect on our body scent.

** I understand the politics of body scent as the conglomerate of feelings and assumptions that people experience towards other’s body scent.

Credits
Curator: Susanne Jaschko

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

Programming: plomlompom

Information architecture & UX design: Kaustubh Srikanth

Poster design: Sheraz Khan

Paper questionnaire design:

Photos test run: Ali El-Darsa

Venue test run: top e.V.

Many thanks to Susanne Jaschko, Kaustubh Srikanth, Mindaugas Gapsevičius and all participants of the test run!