Turning LA Neighborhoods’ Smells Into Olfactory Art

Brian Goeltzenleuchter,
Photo via SMMoA

Los Angeles-based olfactory artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter wanted to create a tribute to the unique smells of his city, so he asked fellow Angelenos to tell him about the unique scents of their neighborhoods via a simple online survey. From there, he crafted fragrances that evoke the particular scents of certain places, as reported by those who know them best. On Saturday, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, he will spray his crowd-sourced creations on visitors. The one-day exhibition, “Sillage” (the french word for the trail a smell leaves behind), will fill the museum with the various smells of the city.

In the language of olfactory art, this type of work is known as a “scent-scape,” which is a way of forming a landscape based purely on scent. Goeltzenleuchter told Vocativ, “As we talk about all these hip locative technologies, here’s old-fashioned locative technology—knowing where you are based on smell.” Goeltzenleuchter also called the project a “foil for institutional politics” that museums are often riddled with. “What you’re actually doing is making a portrait of the museum’s demographic through smell,” he says.

If your initial thought was, “thank God he didn’t do this in New York,” well, no, he didn’t, but someone has. In 2013, Belgian olfactory artist Peter De Cupere conducted a series of interviews with New Yorkers about their perceptions of the city’s aromas, matching visuals and profiles with his latest scent-scapes. Unlike LA, which has largely positive descriptors like “freshly cut grass” and “clean ocean air,” some of the things that spring to mind when we consider our olfactory experiences in New York include hot garbage, street food, and car exhaust.

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