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Process Record (Blog)

Scents Over Time

Melisa Dougherty


How can one see an object without sight? How can you hear a sound without hearing? It is important that the root concept of my work present itself in each sensory experience, so that one may experience the intent despite any sensory limitations. The piece will therefore build off of each mode of experience rather than favoring exclusively one sense. It is with this in mind that I produced the scent of my work for the first time.

“If there are words for all the pastels in a hue—the lavenders, mauves, fushsias, plums, and lilacs—who will name the tones and tints of a smell? It's as if we were hypnotized en masse and told to selectively forget. It may be, too, that smells move us so profoundly, in part, because we cannot utter their names. In a world sayable and lush, where marvels offer themselves up readily for verbal dissection, smells are often right on the tip of our tongues—but no closer—and it gives them a kind of magical distance, a mystery, a power without a name, a sacredness.” ― Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Reading this book several years ago, I began to hear differently, see colors more vividly, and smell more fully. At this point, I had begun the practice of making immersive environments, which, almost instinctually, I would burn incense in, but this was the text which prompted me to consider scent more consciously. It was then that, through various exhibitions I was introduced to the Institute of Art and Olfaction and their Open Sessions. It was here, where I designed and the scent of my piece by hand. In the picture above, I am picking the various elements, which I then diluted together.

I am hesitant to describe the scent too explicitly as words can sway perception, but I will speak to the concepts present.

Firstly, it had to reflect the work as a whole, so I chose to replicate a very specific thing. But just as the existence of self is not so static, so is the status of the thing as suspended in scent; in it’s most pleasant and ; the smell includes the past, present, and future of this thing all at once; it therefore can exists everywhere and no where simultaneously.

As the parts of our brains which are connected with processing scent are adjacent to the parts responsible for memory, memory and scents are very closely tied. This is the basis of the classic studying technique of spraying a perfume while studying for an exam and wearing that same perfume while taking an exam. Have you ever caught the whiff of a former lover’s perfume and immediately feel you mind take you to that place and time? Or a certain food, which reminds you of one summer vacation? This happens to me all the time. It is an extremely lucid experience of smell; my mind is teleported out of the precent into a specific feeling. I utilized this concept in my scent by not only attempting to replicate a specific thing, but also to play on nostalgics as well. Therefore, one might find the specificity of the scent through their own individual memory, perhaps even subconsciously.

Welcome to our home, the place of memory.

  • Melisa Dougherty (Em Dee)