Spanish cable television Movistar TV have collaborated with perfumer Mónica Ceño and WWII expert Felipe Botaya to create an olfactory exhibition showcasing fragrances inspired by the lives and personalities of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, Roosevelt and Tōjō...
The 6 perfumes are also companions to a series on WWII on the Historia channel entitled 'Los perfumes de la historia'.
It is taboo-breaking in a way to propose to smell the olfactive auras of personalities deemed to be repulsive due to their actions in history. Next to Hitler and Stalin, you get to imagine the scents of Churchill and Roosevelt, leaders of the free world though, so this is not a conceptual art happening intent on covering up fetid moral trails with fine fragrance.
What Mónica Ceño and Felipe Botaya seem to have been working on is on versimilitude, that is capturing in a convincing and plausible manner the ambient scents characterizing these historical figures. It's about offering a pseudo history in perfume form to help make the past be more tangible, relatable and alive.
Of course, there is a bordeline aspect to this enterprise which is that it reminds you of the excesses of the cult of personalities. Why reproduce this model when it is clear that our comprehension of WWII has much evolved over the years with more and more nuances being explored? The recent celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy has been the occasion of discovering more sophisticated historiographies where groups like the résistance were analyzed into subtler units. In a way, this is a simplification and perhaps an influence of celebrity fragrance marketing on our vision of history. Or is it a way of going beyond dichotomies of good and evil?
If Churchill gets stamped with whiskey - not such an original note - Hitler gets to be evoked thanks to the scent of uniforms, and more readily experienced in perfumery, gunpowder. Stalin benefits from Napoleon's past in Russia as an Eau de Cologne addict with an added note coming from the Russian steppes.
For survivors of WWII, it might seem odd to rekindle what is basically the scent of fear and distrust for several of those figures. It certainly feels tasteless and repugnant to this perfume critic at a gut level although were I in the same city, I would probably drop by to experience the whole installation in situ.
The exhibition is moving to Barcelona from September 26, 2014 to October 4th, 2014 at Mobile World Center, Movistar space.
What do you think?