Join us at the end of the summer for a self-guided, urban smell tour titled City Sniffers: A smell tour of Amsterdam’s ecohistory. The tour follows one path of six stops with scents and stories within the city. Using a free phone application to navigate, developed by Odeuropa researchers, participants walk around smelling and exploring stories connected to the present history of Amsterdam.
The tour also includes the smells of the city’s past via a Rub’n’Sniff map containing five emblematic aromas. These include the stench of canals, rosemary, the scent of the civet cat in connection to historic perfumes, the fragrance of linden trees and a reconstruction of the smell of a pomander, a perfumed jewel used to protect from disease during the plague. Overall, the tour will explore narratives around colonial histories, transportation and industry within Amsterdam.
“In addition to the beautiful portraits and objects in the collection that tell the story of the rich and famous, the Amsterdam Museum focuses on sharing stories from other perspectives”, says Margriet Schavemaker, artistic director of Amsterdam Museum. “Stories about class and gender differences and the city’s colonial past. Those stories are less well represented in the collection and scent is ideally suited to tell those stories in a very direct way. That is why the Amsterdam Museum is collaborating in this project.”
The tours are open to all and are self-guided – participants can pick up a free Rub’n’Sniff map from the information desk of the Amsterdam Museum(their temporary location at Amstel 51) throughout September.
“Although we are constantly smelling, many are not actively aware of what they are inhaling and how this relates to history, health and the environment. These walking tours bring forward the importance of our sense of smell and the knowledge which can be raised through it. This tour encourages participants to actively smell using the ‘Rub and Sniff’ map, and we hope they also open their noses to other smells in the city”, explains Sofia Collette Ehrich, researcher and Event Coordinator of Odeuropa.
The tour was a collaborative effort between the Odeuropa Project, the Amsterdam Museum and the Institute for Art and Olfaction. Scents were developed in collaboration with IFF; the map was designed by Liam R. Findlay and printed by Scent the Brand. To emphasise the impact of humans on the environment, the chosen locations and smells will bring forward stories related to climate change and how the present day is an accumulation of our past actions.
After more than nine months of remote working due to the pandemic, we finally brought part of the Odeuropa team together. This October, 11 Odeuropa team members, representing all work packages and almost every project partner, met in Paris to smell things, co-create annotated data, bridge gaps between core concepts, and even challenge each other to a game of foosball. This lockdown period has been a burden for all research teams, but for a project researching smells and olfactory heritage, the audiovisual-biased world of online working has been a severe challenge.
We approached this first in-person gathering ‘nose-first’ with the help of our PhD student, Victoria-Anne Michel who organized an olfactory workshop and smell walk for the team. During the workshop, we were able to smell perfumes and raw materials which we then categorized and made associations with through our sense of touch. During our smell walk through the different spaces within the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (site Richelieu) we stuck our noses into a few books, old and new. While walking around the place, we first inhaled the general atmosphere, which sensory researcher Kate McLean calls “smell catching.” We then went “smell hunting” in specific spots. Through this exercise, we felt the contrasts of olfactory atmospheres, or “smellscapes”; from the sleek and modern Performing Arts reading room, the wax wooden rotunda, the futuristic corridor leading to the old-fashioned Manuscripts reading room, and, finally, the impressive, bright, cathedral-looking Labrouste reading room. The discussions that followed were a mix of poetic impressions, technical considerations like the different types of air control systems, and personal scent memories. With this, olfaction functions as both an emotional and spatial sense! Special thanks to the curators Sylvie Bourel, Hervé Grosdoit-Artur and Mathieu Lescuyer, without whom this smellwalk would not have been possible.
This trip not only allowed us to get to know each other and train our noses, but also to truly invest in interdisciplinary knowledge exchanges within Odeuropa and beyond. Throughout the few days, we were able to meet with researchers, heritage groups and other parties involved in the perfume and scent culture industry.
Some highlights from our trip:
We received a warm welcome at the Osmothèque – the historic perfume conservatory based in Versailles – discussing future collaborations around olfactory heritage with the President, Head of Scientific Committee and Communications director of Osmothèque (and smelling some of the nose-boggling perfumes and odorants safeguarded by the institute);
We attended the press launch of Sensory Odyssey, a multisensory immersive event in the Natural History Museum of Paris;
On May 20th, 2021 the Odeuropa project, in collaboration with Mediamatic, Amsterdam, organized its first workshop, Working with scent in GLAMs: Best Practices and Challenges. The main goal of this workshop was to collect experiences about working with scent in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs), and learn more about the challenges and concerns which may hinder these institutions from working with scent. What knowledge is needed in order for GLAMs to start implementing smell into their programs? How can smell benefit museums and enhance visitor experiences?
Thirteen experts came together with a range of knowledge about storytelling with and the preservation of (heritage) scents. Their presentations were divided into three panels: 1) Why work with scent in GLAMs? 2) Storytelling (challenges and results) and 3) How to integrate smell into GLAMs? Because of the lockdown, we organized an online workshop that ensured the ‘nose first’ approach Odeuropa has in mind for all its events. Therefore, all speakers were able to pick a scent to accompany their talk which were either chosen from the scent library of Mediamatic, Amsterdam, or provided from the speaker’s own collection. The Mediamatic team (scent designer Frank Bloem, Nour Akoum and Jessica Cohen) created scent kits which could hold 12 different scented blotters, without the scents evaporating or contaminating each other (see image). The kits were sent to the 40 participants (for this first workshop we worked by invitation only, the next workshop will be open to all).
The workshop consisted of 13 ‘lightning talks’ and provided ample opportunity for open discussions. Over 40 participants shared their experiences of working with scent and conveyed ideas about what they think is missing in the industry. The knowledge shared not only focused on the challenges and barriers which face the inclusion of scent into GLAMs, but also on the advantages.
Among the challenges mentioned were difficulties surrounding the safeguarding of heritage scents. Olfactory elements of heritage objects are often disposed of because they are perceived as dangerous to the preservation of the object. It is also difficult to preserve historic scents and perfumes because of their volatile nature. Scents are sensitive and must be protected from exposure to light, heat and oxygen. Additionally, incorporating scents into environments pose conservation concerns. For example, some GLAM professionals are concerned that scents can harm the artworks. Lastly, there is a concern that the incorporation of scent will result in a hedonic reaction from the visitor, defined by the pleasure or displeasure they experience from the scent and the experience.
Despite these challenges, our attendees also offered many advantages. Incorporating smell into GLAMs provides new ways of engaging with the artworks and makes the ‘invisible’ elements of historical depictions ‘visible’ to audiences. The traditional ‘no touch’ and ocularcentric environment of many institutions can separate visitors from the artifacts. Therefore, introducing scent narratives into GLAMs expands knowledge about artworks and historical sites and provides a direct and engaging perspective of the past. This approach not only impacts the memorability of the visit but is also an excellent tool for broadening accessibility efforts, improving inclusivity with different types of audiences.
In conclusion, there is much to be achieved in order to overcome the current challenges which face olfactory GLAM experiences. Our participants proposed a few ways we can overcome these challenges. Firstly, the way smell is presented in relation to an artwork or artifact matters. Any and all context changes a visitor’s perception of the experience and object. Therefore, in addition to conservation and curatorial concerns, all surrounding content and context must be considered. Secondly, the curator, conservation team, and creator of the smell should work together from the beginning in order to avoid conflicts and surprises later. Lastly, trust should be built between scent professionals and GLAMs. This would provide transparency and a sharing of knowledge, easing many concerns that GLAMs have surrounding the incorporation of scent. Through this open communication, a ‘how-to’ guide explaining the do’s and don’ts of olfactory museum practices should be created, providing GLAM professionals access to information about the toxicity, flammability, and conservational risks certain scents pose. The Odeuropa project will develop a Toolkit for Olfactory Storytelling to meet these needs. In our next workshop, we will present the framework for this toolkit to the community, to get feedback and advice. One of the most important things we learned from the workshop is the importance of knowledge sharing as the olfactory heritage field has so many different experts. We are committed to honour their work, while searching new paths for the future.
Speakers and Talk Titles:
Panel #1: Why Work with Smell within GLAMs?
Jorge Otero Pailos (United States) – An Olfactory Reconstruction of the Philip Johnson Glass House
Isabelle Chazot (France) – L’Osmothèque: The World’s only Living Perfume Archive
Marie Clapot (United States) – Olfaction: A Tool towards Democratizing the Museum Experience
Lizzie Marx (Netherlands) – ‘Fleeting – Scents in Colour’ at the Mauritshuis