Update – Follow Your Nose!

Museum Ulm’s curator, Dr. Eva Leistenschneider using a Whispi to sniff the Smell of Hell in front of Martin Schaffner’s, Christus in der Vorhoelle (Christ in Limbo) from 1519. Photo by Sofia Ehrich.

During the project’s first 1.5 years, Odeuropa collaborated with Museum Ulm on a guided smell tour where visitors could discover the museum’s art collection through their nose. The tour, Follow Your Nose: a Guided Tour with Smells, officially launched in April 2022 and continues to run. The Odeuropa project developed the smells in collaboration with Museum Ulm and the fragrance company IFF. By creating historically informed smell interpretations, all collaborators aimed to turn a museum visit into a multisensory experience, opening new opportunities to enjoy, learn and engage with the collection.

Below, we provide an update on the event’s progress and accomplishments. Additionally, we outline a few key outcomes from this event’s development.

Progress Update:

Follow Your Nose! had a tremendous local impact. Throughout its first year, Museum Ulm conducted a total of 64 guided tours with 1.022 participants. It was a popular activity for local school classes – 366 of those participants were children visiting the museum. The museum successfully trained their staff and tour guides to use three different olfactory distribution methods proposed by Odeuropa and they experimented with olfactory storytelling through eight artworks and eleven specially designed smells. On conducting the tours, Museum Ulm’s curator Dr. Eva Leistenschneider reflected, “doing these tours is really fun – the tours are always full of laughter and animated discussions.” The successful collaboration and positive visitor response highlighted the potential olfactory methods can have on GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) initiatives and the benefits of identifying and overcoming the challenges which come with olfactory storytelling. 

The guided tour also had an international impact with many press outlets within Europe and the United States interested in the concept and development of the smell tours. To name a few, Follow Your Nose! was highlighted via radio on Inside Europe, via podcast on the American Historical Review’s History in Focus, via television on the BBC Travel Show and via print on the Augsburger Allgemeine

Museum Ulm will close in April 2023 for renovations until 2025, however, they plan to integrate all the artworks which are part of the Follow Your Nose! tour into their temporary collection at Kunsthalle Weishaupt and resume regular smell guided tour visits in Winter 2023. Both Odeuropa and Museum Ulm are extremely excited about the event’s success. Although it is clear that there is still much to be learned and researched within the field of olfactory storytelling and museology, successful collaborations like these exemplify the incredible possibilities and opportunities which lie ahead for this ever growing field. Dr. Leistenschneider said of the overall collaboration between Museum Ulm, Odeuropa, and IFF, “[we] appreciate the huge success that these tours [have] with our public. We are really happy to have had the opportunity to work with you all on the concept and discover the wonderful world of scent in GLAMs! Thank you all for this experience, it has been a pleasure!”

Key Takeaways of Olfactory Event Design:

These tours, as well as the other Odeuropa olfactory events, are used as examples which help research how to improve the pathways for olfactory interpretation, event design, visitor experiences, and conservation. With the successful collaboration and development of this olfactory event with Museum Ulm, the Odeuropa team is able to further shape its knowledge in guided tour design, storytelling, and smell development. This process supports and informs one of Odeuropa’s main goals which is to map out best practices and challenges of bringing smell to GLAMs. Olfactory events like these also provide Odeuropa the opportunity to collect questionnaire data from visitors which provide concrete evidence of what value visitors place on such sense-ational GLAM experiences. All these findings will be organised into an easy, open-access resource for GLAM professionals called the Olfactory Storytelling Toolkit, to be launched at the end of 2023. 

Using Olfactory storytelling techniques in GLAMs come with many challenges. At the beginning of the Odeuropa project, a workshop was organised together with Mediamatic, Working with scent in GLAMs – Best Practices and Challenges, which brought together a group of olfactory experts to early assess the challenges that this industry faces. Building on these findings, Odeuropa continued researching the best practices of olfactory storytelling in GLAMs with an aim to find solutions to the challenges. Particular findings from the Follow Your Nose! olfactory guided tour are explained below.

The smell distribution techniques that were available for tour guides to use during the Follow Your Nose guided tours. Photos by Sofia Ehrich.

Flexible Olfactory Design

With this event, it became clear that flexible forms of olfactory design were necessary. Tour guides were trained to work with three different methods: Hand fans sprayed with scent to be wafted at larger groups (also met Covid-19 social-distancing rules), Whispis, which are a small device that puts out dry scented air, and blotters, which are a stiff paper that can be dipped in scent. It was important to Museum Ulm that the tour guides had options that suited different group sizes and age groups. After six months, the tour guides reported that all methods were effective and utilised in different situations. The ability to pick and choose these methods based on group size and the tour guide themselves was very important.

Museum Ulm’s curator, Dr. Eva Leistenschneider and Odeuropa team members, Victoria-Anne Michel and Dr. Lizzie Marx preparing blotters for Follow Your Nose test tours. Photo by Sofia Ehrich.

Smell management 

A challenge that both Odeuropa and Museum Ulm did not foresee was the issue of smell management, or the process of preparing and storing smells on location. Museum Ulm advised that each distribution method required different management and storage. For example, with some distribution methods the chosen storage place was emitting odour meaning that it could bother someone’s working space. This could not be prevented even when placing the Whispis in airtight containers. Storage was not the only challenge. Museum Ulm reported that when an olfactory tour was conducted in the museum (no matter which distribution method) a smell trail lingered through parts of the museum after the tour. Concrete solutions to these challenges are still being researched.

Do not fear the malodour
One of the barriers of olfactory storytelling is using malodours or unpleasant smells. Past research has stipulated that malodours pose a higher risk to visitors because they can cause negative emotional responses and are more difficult to distribute. Through this event, we learned that malodours can help heritage institutes provide new perspectives to their collections, narrating new, unexpected, and seminal stories about Europe’s culture and history. To our surprise, most visitors to our olfactory tours had quite positive reactions to the malodours, and they were interested to engage with more. Leistenschneider said of her own engagement with visitors and malodours, “in all the tours I conducted myself, I had only one participant telling me (after the tour) that they had preferred a tour without malodours. Everybody else was unanimous that a mixture of pleasant and foul scents made the tour more entertaining and interesting.” As is advised with any olfactory project, Museum Ulm conducted numerous test tours with various audiences before the launch to anticipate the impact of different smells in such situations. 

To find out more about Museum Ulm and how to book a guided tour, visit their website at https://museumulm.de/en/news/follow-your-nose/.


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