Odeuropa x Mediamatic Workshop: Working with scent in GLAMs – Best Practices and Challenges

The Odeuropa Workshop scent kit designed and created by Mediamatic team members. Picture by Sofia Ehrich.

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

Panel #2:  Storytelling (challenges and results)

  • Caro Verbeek (Netherlands) – Challenges for Tour Guides
  • Chris Tuckley (United Kingdom) – Smelly Vikings: Synthetic Fragrances at the JORVIK Viking Centre from 1984 to the Present Day
  • Peter de Cupere (Belgium) – The Use of ‘Olfactory Transfers’ in Exhibition Models
  • Andrea Buettner (Germany) – Smell: Transporter of Information and Meaning since the Early Beginning of Life

Panel #3:  How to integrate smell into GLAMs?

  • Cecilia Bembibre (United Kingdom) – Scent of Place: Old Books and Historic Libraries
  • Tasha Marks (United Kingdom) – AVM Curiosities & The Sensory Museum
  • Lizzie Ostrom (United Kingdom) – How to Tame Your Dragon: Bringing Scent into a Gallery or Museum
  • Saskia Wilson Brown (United States) – The Institute of Art & Olfaction

Announcing the Odeuropa Network

We are delighted to share a new initiative with you today: the Odeuropa Network. From the moment our project was announced in November last year, we’ve been excited and honoured to receive a steady stream of emails (to date, over 150) from people who wanted to explore opportunities for collaboration, share their own work and research, or who simply wished to learn more about our project. Over time, these messages began to reveal fascinating new clusters of olfactory expertise to us – from archaeobotanists and architects, to linguists, perfumers, artists, chemists, and historians. Frustratingly, we simply don’t have the resources to pursue even a fraction of these opportunities in the context of the already carefully planned and budgeted Odeuropa research project. But happily, we are in a position where we can enable our contacts to learn of each other’s interests and expertise, connect with each other, and create their own olfactory partnerships and collaborations. Hence the Odeuropa Network, a searchable, public directory hosted on the Odeuropa website, with basic information on individuals and institutions interested in olfactory heritage and sensory data mining.

To become a member of the network, please fill-out this online form where you can list your basic information, interests, and expertise in the public members’ directory and also sign-up for our upcoming newsletter to keep up to date with Odeuropa’s events and activities. The online form will be kept open and the directory will be curated and updated on an ongoing basis by the Odeuropa project team. Our goal is to publish the first version of the directory in just a week or two. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity!

Update (22/6/21): You can now view current members of the Odeuropa Network on an interactive map.

Submit your work: First International Workshop on Multisensory Data & Knowledge

Together with the Polifonia team, we’re organising a workshop on Multisensory Data & Knowledge to take place in conjunction with the Language Data and Knowledge conference in September. The goal of this workshop is to advance our understanding of how smells and music are represented in texts and structured data. The topics we want to address revolve around extracting references to smells, music, context, and visual information from text as well as relevant data describing their cultural, historical and political context, and model them in the form of interlinked knowledge graphs. This research has a strong interdisciplinary character, hence the workshop has the potential to attract researchers from diverse disciplines from both social sciences and humanities and computer science. Its potential impact is significant to many application areas including: preservation and valorisation of cultural heritage, data-driven policy making in cultural heritage, urban planning, artistic performances, applications for scholars in musicology and history, applications for museums, innovation in teaching, maintenance and exploitation of large catalogues, archives and libraries.

We invite long papers between 10 and 15 pages and short papers between 6 to 8 pages. Note that this workshop is organised following the computer science conference/publication culture, so initial submissions are expected to be in a near publishable state and will be reviewed by three reviewers. Accepted papers will be published through ceur-ws.org.

Submission deadline: 23 April 2021, the workshop will take place on 1 September.

More information on the workshop: https://odeuropa.github.io/mdk21/

Opening the fragrant conversation

When we announced Odeuropa last November, we couldn’t have dreamed that it would be received with so much enthusiasm. As the research teams kick off the programme, we’d like to share an overview of the international response to Odeuropa’s launch from the media, research community and general public, which is already developing into a wider conversation into the relevance of smell in our lives and how the idea of olfactory heritage resonates with a large variety of audiences.

Not only in Europe, but around the globe, the project was widely covered by feature articles and in-depth interviews, for instance by the Spanish scientific news agency,  Le Monde, La Stampa, La RepubblicaDeutschland Radio, NPO Radio 1, Delo, El PaísCNET, and CNN. The Guardian, The New York Times and The Sunday Times reported on our research aims and innovative approach, along with the BBC.

From a video by Indonesian YouTube channel The Shiny Peanut (+12M subscribers) which animated members of our research team to a thoughtful reflection by the Times of Israel of the power of scent to overcome ignorance and communicate on a subject as complex as the Holocaust, we were delighted to see that so many people across the world share our curiosity to explore the potential of olfactory heritage.

Shiny Peanut
The Shiny Peanut, YouTube.

People shared the scents they considered meaningful in comments about nostalgic memories or fragrant experiences, and even reflections about covid-related loss of smell.  The New York Times, inspired by Odeuropa, invited their readers to imagine a museum of smells and worked with artist Janie Korn to produce a series of one-off candles inspired by the project

We are honoured and intensely happy to engage with these and the many other responses we received. In the next weeks and months, we will start to explore how we can accommodate new collaborations and keep expanding our network. Please stay tuned for information here on our website and via Twitter @odeuropa