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Spatialities and scents: Chemical and cultural dialogues

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Smell can be understood as a cultural phenomenon, historically signified, enforcing social structures or transgressing them, creating social bonds – empowering or disempowering people. The perception of smell consists not only of the sensation of the odours themselves, but of the experiences and emotions associated with them. Odours, unlike colours, for instance, cannot be named, only described; in the realm of olfaction, we must make do with descriptions, analogies and recollections. It is an elusive phenomenon. From natural environments to urban spaces, the large variety of odours can stimulate our olfactory senses and evoke experiences, in which pleasant and unpleasant, and even non-smelling scents, can be combined as parameters of spatial limits and social bounds. Thus, smell can be used to structure and classify different aspects of the world, from time and space to gender and selfhood. The aim of this text is to comprehend some chemical and cultural aspects of smells and odours, and their potential to elaborate social connections and configure spatial orientations. Based on some examples from the Bororo of Brazil and the aboriginal inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, odours are understood as cultural classification systems and means of ordering the world. At the end, some artists – such as Usman Haque, Rion Willard and Jenny Marketou – will be presented since their art works proposals of mapping and describing physical spaces through smells and odours can be apprehended as a medium to create evocative experiences.
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Keywords: cultural codes; everyday experiences; odours; olfactory systems; situated experiences; smell maps; spatialities

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Anhembi Morumbi University

Publication date: May 17, 2012

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  • Technoetic Arts focuses upon the juncture between art, technology and the mind. Divisions between academic areas of study, once rigidly fixed, are gradually dissolving due to developments in science and cultural practice. This fusion has had a dramatic effect upon the scope of various disciplines. In particular, the profile of art has radically evolved in our present technological culture
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