Immaterial: perfume and contemporary art


When I began this blog, I intended it to be an outlet for me to get out my writerly urges, and to establish a voice in the blogosphere that specifically explores the resonances between perfume and other forms of art like visual art and literature.  As I plow deeper into this world, I realized that I was not the first to focus on this subject, that in fact the broad cultural influences of scent was territory well-trodden by a handful of wonderfully creative bloggers, too many to mention here (but you know who you are).

Disappointed with the mainstream, overly commercialized “celebuscents,” I looked towards independent, niche perfumers to understand the olfactory arts.  Little did I know that there already existed a universe of individuals who take scent making seriously as an art form, but also that there were contemporary visual artists who use scent as a medium, much like a painter with canvas and oils, like a sculptor with bronze and marble.  As the world of contemporary art becomes more and more saturated, to the point where it seems almost impossible to do anything uniquely new, artists and curators turn to smell as a way to take advantage of its immateriality while striking upon deep cultural and emotional responses.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ulrich Lang, the effervescent creator of an eponymous line of perfume as well as one of the founders of Elements Showcase.  Elements is a bi-annual meeting of fragrance purveyors and creators from all over the globe, whose next incarnation will be in New York from August 20-21, 2012.  Though the list of participants is not out yet, it’s hard to believe that in only its second year of existence, Elements has established itself as the place to discover new, emerging talent on the fragrance and beauty indie circuit.

Uli, as he is known to his friends, also has a background in art.  A longtime visitor to the famous Art Basel art fair in Switzerland, Uli’s focus has been primarily in the field of photography, and the medium has influenced his perfumery as well.  His first two scents, Anvers (French for ‘Antwerp’) 1 and 2, feature photos of the photo dealer Roger Szmulewicz, shot by artists Roger Swain and Katy Grannan, respectively.  Nightscape, his third scent and this patchouli lover’s favorite of the three, was inspired by a picture of the skyline of New York by Matt Licari.  Lang has a special talent for translating visual and conceptual ideas and turning them into olfactory experiences.

Lang has facilitated some of these projects, like Lisa Kirk’s Revolution (featured in a previous post), and was invited by Participant Inc., a gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, to create a scent after the fictional character of Tony Clifton, played by the comedian Andy Kaufman and others.  According to Interview Magazine, Lang “brought [the project] to the renowned Drom Fragrances so they could deliver ‘an aggressive cologne’ peppered with Jack Daniels, Lucky Strikes, and BO.”  Sounds like it could give Sécrétions Magnifique a run for its money.

I’m looking forward to Elements, and hope to see some of you there.

Photo courtesy of LYRA MAG.

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