Sometimes the smell of a project sticks to him. Anyone who saw the Marcin Rusak Unnatural Practice exhibition at the Ordet space during the last FuoriSalone knows something about it. The Polish artist has lined up a series of works on the most disturbing part of the life cycle of plants: rot. To do this, he asked the perfumer Barnabé Fillion to design an ad hoc odor.
A (unpleasant) smell to spark attention
The impact at the entrance to the tunnel was as inevitable as it was annoying. We tend to withdraw from the odors of putrefaction, we are instinctively afraid of them. It is the amygdala and hippocampus that decide whether a smell is good or not, and it is a process that skips any rational reading and proceeds directly to the instinctive brain.
A rotting smell has the same effect on the brain as the sound of a trumpet being fired a few meters from someone's ears: you enter alert mode. The sculptures of Rusak made of layers of decaying plants “needed” to retain a smell that spoke of their nature.
An olfactory design gallery
That even death has a scent is one of the best known and most disturbing facts. As are many other smells capable of alerting the limbic system: bacterial cultures, organic odors, harmful substances. Design has often dealt with smells, with objects, tools, collections capable of giving order to a sense that has very little rationality.
To understand how she did it, we asked Domitilla Dardi who in 2020 carried out a research on olfactory design (later published on her Instagram account): a patient work of collection that seems to have also inspired some exhibitions foreign. Il di lei is an album of inventions and projects that are multidisciplinary to say the least.
Cataloging the smell to design a language
One of the names mentioned by the curator of MAXXI is that of Sissel Tolaas, a Swedish artist who works on the language of smells and its impregnable alphabet (he also collaborated with Formafantasma in the development of the Cambio exhibition). In his lab in Berlin he keeps an archive of 1900 different smells, including those of different cities around the world.
“Each place has a particular smell, made up of many different substances. I keep and archive, to study the communicative potential”, explains Sissel. To her active she has several exhibitions, in which smells are used to speak and not just to enjoy a good perfume.
Design smells better
Another very interesting work finished in Dardi's collection was that of Diller Scofidio + Renfro for The art of scent at MAD in New York in 2012. In this work commissioned by the museum itself, the New York studio eliminated any visual reference to the perfume and its origin.
The visitor was invited to lean over one of the alcoves built into the walls and smell, making it clear how little the other senses matter when it comes to smells. Memories, stimulated by the primitive brain, instantly bring back to ancient and infantile images. Or they trigger a totally irrational emotionality. The right definition is “molecular communication”.
All its history in the scent of a food
In Italy, many companies have been involved in olfactory design. Astrid Luglio for Elei.it you recently designed Famiglia Oliva, a small collection for oil tasting. There is also a cylindrical container for an olfactory tasting capable of giving precise information on the origin of the oil and on the harvest.
Alessi has dedicated an entire collection designed by Marcel Wanders to the theme of home fragrance, called The Five Seasons, inspired by tree shapes.
The history of perfumes in a project by Luca Nichetto
A similar project was signed in 2021 by Luca Nichetto for Ginori 1735: LCDC. A contemporary acronym for a project entirely dedicated to the Renaissance, inspired by the journey of Caterina De' Medici and her court to France. It is thanks to the great Florentine lady that perfume art arrives in Paris.
The collection, not easy to imagine, is a journey à rebours full of quotes that enhance Tuscan manufacturing and the fecundity of Renaissance culture. An intelligent operation that seeks to transcend the theme thanks to historical anecdotes.