Sector C: Art Practice and Technology
Michael Leja (ARTH), Tricia Treacy (FNAR)
Conceptions of Perceptions: vision and olfaction through the ages
The Western philosophical tradition has long relegated scent to the bottom of the sensory hierarchy as the savage and uncivilized sense. Vision, on the other hand, has historically been elevated, as the sensory modality most closely associated with wisdom and truth. However, modern scientific research indicates a complex and mutually dependent biological relationship between vision and olfaction, which challenges these established conceptions. In my written thesis I chronicle the perception and ranking of the senses from antiquity to the present and emphasize the untapped potential of olfaction as well as that of the intermingling of the senses and cross-modal learning. My art component invites smell into the conventionally visually-dominated gallery environment in hopes of contributing to the quest of breaking down boundaries between the senses in the art world and beyond. Drawing from the idea that scents can serve as repositories of information and emotion, I was inspired by a quote from Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera—“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Using a poem by Pablo Neruda and a device that invites an intimate interaction with a scent that I have prepared, I hope to imprint the feeling of longing experienced by the viewer, or smeller, with a particular and mysterious scent.