Opening New Smell Frontiers {The 5th Sense in the News}


There is a terrific article on odor artist or professional in-betweener as she calls herself Sissel Tolaas known among other things for her recordings of the sweats of men suffering from extreme phobias. Her itinerary appears quite unique along with her will to go back to a stage of cognitive openness regarding smells that we are all supposed to have experienced in early infancy. Importantly also, and as anthropologists have shown, feelings of olfactive repulsion often are an expression of an in-group vs. out-group dynamic...

"Tolaas points out that much of the disgust surrounding smell is strongly linked to bigotry and racism, and argues that more than anything, we need to cultivate the tolerance of the nose. She quotes George Orwell, who was struck by the way odour is linked to feelings of prejudice and wrote that "the real secret of class distinctions in the West" consisted in the belief that "the lower classes smell". This olfactory prejudice, she believes, is programmed not innate. "It is drummed into us from outside, from industry, from our culture, our education." Given this, she believes, we should make an effort to ensure that our children are not raised with this prejudice. Tolaas does a lot of work with children and her daughter Tara - a slender 11-year-old with a sophisticated nose - is her ultimate guinea pig. "Whenever she says something smells bad, I say, Why is it like that, Tara?' And, in fact, her favourite smells are the worst ones. She comes with the kids from school and she says, Mummy, we would like to smell Slaughterhouse Of Paris'."

Read more in the Sunday Herald, "Why It's Good To Smell".... 

Image: Web MIT Edu for the Sensorium exhibit

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

  1. It is an interesting point of view. I know some of her works. But I do not agree with her. There is a distinction between recongnizing something as bad and rejecting it (or accepting and tolerate). In mondern art there is an endless discution about good taste/bad taste and in the end we are in our world free and without refferences.
    For me this point of view is not practical at all and I prefer a straight position (good or bad but not in the chaotic middle).
    For raw materials (on my orgue) I have bad and very bad smells ... but I do not reject them and I use where they are needed.

    Smell and races are indeed linked and there are a lot of expressions in french (and romanian) to prove that. The smell is a fact, bad is just a rejection of what is unfamiliar.

    "the lower classes smell" - whe should think of the hygiene now and 200 years ago + the wardrobe, to give the exact interpretation of a quote made in the past.
    All this theories about smell&society should be revised because our present changed a lot in the last 30 years.
    I will give you an example of something that surprised me a lot. In a recent interview in a Parisian magazine Karl Lagerfeld spoke about Paris in the 50's and how different it was (he explained also why) in terms of smell (!!!). It's very descriptive and it's an image of the past I've never experienced but Lagerfeld and other generations might have this kind of refferences.
    I wonder what could be the olfactive prejudice of today?

    Octavian Coifan

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