“le-sprint” (the sprint, 2008) by Boris Raux. This is an installation set in-between two gallery spaces where the viewer has to cross over a walk way of upside down deodorant cans, every step releases an odour upon the viewer. The deodorant cans are fixed together in an organised grid like fashion which resembles the organisation on the shelves of the cleaning section of a supermarket, with all the same neutral colour. There is no originality with any of the cans, each one stands at the same height and has the same tint of orange. The title ‘le-sprint’ makes perfect sense, you enter the slim corridor and to get to the second part of the exhibition you must travel across this sea of cans. Thinking it’s a stylised walkway the first step releases the noticeable smell of ‘synthetic perfume’. Suddenly the viewer begins to feel stuffy, nausea hits as they begin to be covered by this thick smog of deodorant, as Jean-Baptiste de Beauvais explains,’ the visitor picks up pace, he starts to run as if on hot coals, to try and escape the toxic cloud that fills the space and which he himself just makes even bigger’ (2011). Suddenly you are surrounded by chemicals, something which is meant to clean and cover turns in to a toxic shower. Raux turns something which is meant to cover up odour in to an uncomfortable intoxicating experience, the object which is meant to cover up smell becomes the thing we are trying to escape from. What Raux creates is something which entraps the viewer, placing something which has to be crossed so the next space can be reached. The excessive amounts of deodorant cans are symbolic to the cleanliness of our society and addiction to cleaning. By creating this suffocating cloud of toxic deodorant, Raux represents how we stifle our sense of smell by always seeking to remove odours, and he uses the substance which we normally use to disguise natural smells. This work also questions the idea of the gallery, ‘olfactory works of this kind break the neutral, odorless, “white cube”paradigm of the modernist museum and gallery space’ (Larry and Kriskovets,2007:277).
The smell of a gallery is more clinical then we believe it to be, the environment of these places should be considered as a space to present work, but because of the continuous amount of cleaning and scrubbing these spaces become more unnatural by the day. Instead of experiencing the natural odours of the art, the oil paint, metal, wood we experience the gallery as we are intended to, with a focus on the visual. Consider Cosgrove’s theory:
‘the idea of landscape came to denote the artistic and literary representation of the visible world, the scenery (literally that which is seen) which is viewed by a spectator. It implied a particular sensibility… closely connected to a growing dependency on the faculty of sight as the medium through which truth was to be attained: ‘seeing is believing” (Cosgrove,1984:p09)
We are conditioned to continue thinking like this by most galleries this is an example of ‘imbuing sensory values with social values, cultures attempt to ensure that their members will perceive the world aright’ (Classen,2005:p147), so by doing the gallery is trying to make the viewer analyse only through the sense of sight. It is very easy to rely completely on our sense of vision However what Raux does contradicts and mocks the idea of the clean and sterile gallery by polluting it with the very products we use to mask smells in the first place. What Raux has created is a humorous installation which defines our culture in a very extravagant and loud way, not only questioning our need to clean but at the same time the ideas of what a vast amount of galleries chose to represent. ‘It is an artificial society that no longer knows where to find the natural, which can only fantasize about nature’ (De Beauvais,2011). One needs to take time to fully understand an artwork, today it is easy to rush around a gallery space, pausing only to skim read the explanation pinned to the wall, many viewers do not take the time to analyse work themselves as it is already available for them.
Smell increases the time we spend on something (Zhou et al. 2010) so olfactory art may prevent viewers reading the statement and moving on, and instead provoke a more prolonged reaction to the artwork.
De Beauvais, J. 2011. Toxic Tricks- Artifices Toxiques. [online] available at: <http://www.borisraux.com/english/index.php?/critiques/artifices-toxiques/>
Shiner, L and Kriskovets, Y. 2007. The Aesthetics of Smelly Art. The journal of aesthetics and art criticism. [e-journal] 65(3). available through: Wiley online library <http://www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com>
Cosgrove,D,E. 1984. Social formation and symbolic language. London and Sydney: Croon Helm
Classen, C, Howes, D and Synnott, A. 1994. Aroma, The cultural history of smell. London: Routledge
Zhou,W., Jiang,Y., He,S., and Chen,D. 2010. Olfaction modulates visual perception in binocular rivalry. [PDF] Current Biology. Available at <http://www.zhouw.psych.ac.cn/Zhouw.Jiang.He.Chen.CurrBiol.2010.pdf>