SF scent event this weekend





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Jancar Jones Gallery965 Mission, Suite 120
San Francisco, CA 94103

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scent story by Florian

The rue du Faubourg Saint Denis is a commercial street, not only because it supports lots of storefronts but also because its character is determined by loose but unmistakable clots of similar kinds of stores. From the Gare de l’Est to the Grands Boulevards it’s all fruits and vegetables, or Pakistani restaurants or hair product wholesalers, with offshoots into the passages whose mustiness has never been penetrated by modern notions like merchandising.

It’s a historic commercial street, not only because it has probably played host to these kinds of businesses for a very long time, and to people who don’t seem to belong in modern France (like the produce men hocking wares in rhymes that were ancient when Proust wrote about them), but because some of the merchandise itself, with the exception of the beautiful produce, seems to have been neglected for far too long, long enough to collect dust and leach pigment. I was recently walking down this street when I had a kind of experience that sometimes happens on commercial streets, when two strong but antagonistic smells hit you back-to-back so that as soon as you’ve smelled the second you can never imagine enjoying the first.

In this case, it was a butcher shop, rabbits and foul and collections of terrine laid out, and more especially dozens of golden chickens spinning not quite in unison on three or four rows of spits inside a glowing glass case set out on the sidewalk, with pans of Noirmoutier potatoes below them absorbing a hot rain of chicken drippings. And guess what was the second? A poissonnerie, all ice and oysters and chilly white filets, with palm fronds and kelp stalks expertly tucked into the bins, marking the extreme brininess of the air above the slippery sidewalk with chlorophyll. Walking by the boucherie, it might take a second to become fully enveloped in the aroma produced by the rotisserie chickens, the salted skins neither too fatty nor too thin but crisping into a even brown armor, no ingredients involved most likely beyond the alchemy of chicken, salt and heat, but when the aroma hits it’s enough to make someone who’s just had lunch into a Dickens ragamuffin or some loose dog, hardly even noticing they’ve stopped to watch the chickens spin and hear the drippings hit and sizzle, not even really wishing for one to take home but just pausing to be awash in winter joy. But that is exactly when the smell of fish interrupts, dispelling the sidewalk hearth and luring you into cold within coldness, past Finisterre to the ocean, as the hearth, despite its charm, loses its power to claim you. The smell of seafood is revolting unless completely accepted, and so arresting in those circumstances that it pushes the smell of meat immediately out of mind.

It would take a very strong olfactory mind to head off the onset of fish and cling to the aura of meat. And the fish shop was so pretty, trimmed as I said in various foliages of dark green, that it was all the easier to let the merry boucherie slip away. The blobs of coquille and oyster flesh jiggled like bits of Ice Queen, tokens of a cold and enigmatic, pristine and lonely person. On the one hand, I can never pass fish shops without thinking of the fishermen, deliverers, shopkeepers, all the people who live in the frozen yet pungent world of seafood, spending a lot of chilly early mornings wet, even spending weeks at sea on crummy, cramped fishing boats. On the other hand, seafood never seems as convivial as rotisserie chicken. At best, some of these firm white filets suggest a sedate dinner at home with a distinguished young dinner partner and a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé. But these odd shapes and quiescent forms, decorative in their lightness and variety, also suggest to me the lonely passion of the collector, driven by his mania for these not-quite-alive, not-quite-dead gems to live in an Ice Palace all by himself.

This moment on the rue Faubourg Saint Denis brought to mind another experience of extreme, contrasting sidewalk odors, this time on Telegraph Street in Berkeley. This is a street for which I have no fondness, not only because it serves as the epicenter of a bygone and by now morally compromised counter-culture, including aging Berkeley folk whose defining life experiences may have occurred as long as 40 years ago and young dreadlocked street people who copy the hippies’ style without their convictions; but also because it served as my route home every evening from campus to the 1R bus, often in the course of trying to rouse myself from a kind of bored daze after a seminar or reflecting on how long I would likely have to wait for the bus and how much work there was left to do when I got home. Places that have witnessed your routines for years and never oblige so much as a flicker of nostalgia should be avoided. And the smells I have in mind were equally ungracious, both separately and, naturally, in their dissonance.

There is a pastry shop which sells donuts, M&M cookies, chocolate croissants, eclairs and other rough sweets just after Moe’s, and it exhales a warm, buttery breath. It seems to be venting its sweetness on you. It is the aroma of “baked goodness”, strangely identical everywhere, and, even when, while walking to the bus alone, it raised the specter of home for me, I was never fooled into buying something. In any case, its mellow doughy aroma gives way on Telegraph Street to the sharp aroma of essential oils, a small Indian or maybe Sri Lankan shop with lots of bottles in the windows, letting off an indefinable mix of patchouli and maybe oregano . . . that completely displaces the aroma of the bakery just before. As with boucherie and poissonnerie the dissonance is absolute, but here the transition entails a queasy lurch from the one to the other. The swift succession fascinates, but neither smell would be as noteworthy without its odd complement. And although the sharp and spiced essential oils store overwhelms the seemingly much mellower bubble gum-brown butter bakery, I feel quite sure that, in reverse, the warm, pervasive bakery aroma cloud would succeed in simply blotting out the pungency of the exotic oils.

Paris Provocation

A blind dégustation among wine experts in Paris 1976 put Californian wine on the map and began an ongoing conflict of taste in Californian and French wines.

This intimate gathering was the impetus for the SFMOMA’s new multimedia show, “How Wine Became Modern: Wine + Design 1976-now.” The exhibit looks back at the past 30 years of the relationship between wine and design primarily in California but inevitably shores up the influence of French oenological culture.

Among the impressive array of art and design works that trace wine’s rise to cultural prominence are two remarkable scent installations. The exhibit represents a curatorial approach that strives to create a new kind of atmosphere with the help of interactive sound, video and scent media. According to the museum’s curator Henry Urbach, the art and artifacts that make up this exhibit produce a “physical and discursive space” which engages visitors in a collective experience of wine as art, design, culture and community.

The first scent installation is a series of modern glass beakers mounted on an opaque glass wall, full of various types of wine with aeration bulbs that enhance smelling of each wine. Above each vessel are descriptions of the wine organized by quite imaginative aromatic labels. Each aromatic descriptor is accompanied by an explanation of its historical origin and marketing value. My personal favorite of the series is “Hamster Cage.” From the other side of the wall, the installation takes on a more voyeuristic and visual dimension as one sees the shadows of visitors tentatively stooping down to peer at or inhale something from obscure vessels.

Sissel Tolaas‘ piece is easy to miss but for the small plaque indicating her reproduction of the scent of a 1976 wine that earned a rare 100 points from a young Robert Parker. Tolaas drank the wine and analyzed the chemical composition of its odor on her breath using headspace technology. She then recreated the odor compound and put it into a container of white paint. This paint was finally applied to a small alcove in the corner of one of the galleries.

Such a complicated yet undoubtedly pleasurable project seemed to produce confusion and skepticism among the visitors. Many seemed to think they didn’t get it, perhaps owing to a weak sense of smell or were convinced that this was “some arty BS,” as one woman put it. Her bold statement resonated with those around her who preferred to think that it was a joke piece rather than admit they didn’t smell what the artist herself smelled. A sort of olfactory Emperor’s New Clothes?

Given that Tolaas is a fan of her provocateur predecessor, Marcel Duchamp, I am inclined to think that her piece is partially ironic but also challenging to an American audience afraid of shoving their noses right up to the paint on the wall, which is precisely what it took me to really get a good whiff. (I admit that I waited until no one else was around to see me do this.)

While the more daring visitors tried to smell the odor by rubbing the paint delicately with their fingers and sniffing those, I took a cue from my dog. He has taught me that the best way to smell some objects is to put your olfactory receptors as close as possible. As soon as I was alone I pushed my nose smack in the middle of the alcove and rubbed it around, sniffing all the while. And having been a bartender for years, I can tell you that it most certainly smells of stale wine breath.

“How Wine Became Modern” invites your eyes, ears, hands and noses (alas, there are no taste installations) to enjoy wine and design at the SFMOMA from November 20 2010 – April 17, 2011.

London LA SF NY scent events

Starting November 20 SF MOMA has a show called How Wine Became Modern featuring a couple of interactive olfactive exhibits including a piece by scent artist Sissel Tolaas.

Bruno Fazzolari’s Mirror 5 will be at Jancar Jones Gallery in SF November 19-December 18.

Check out ongoing London events hosted by Odette Toilette of Scratch and Sniff.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is hosting a series of gothic perfume events in the LA area.

And, although it’s a long ways off yet, the New York Museum of Art and Design will be hosting a perfume retrospective curated by Chandler Burr slated to go up sometime in November 2011.

you may be a visual learner but most of us are olfactive feelers

The automotive industry fine tunes the art of car scenting.

The nose is the most direct way to the consumer’s heart. Companies are using new technology to reel in customers by their noses. Marketers will soon have their open nostrils at Scent World 2010 expo in Miami.

Cannabis propagandists in the Netherlands are using scent cards to advocate its legalization.