Last Thursday evening, walking west on 25th Street, the idea of attending a gallery opening suddenly felt like feeble excuse to be outdoors. I was being pummeled by an Arctic blast that raced across the river from New Jersey. The cold made my face hurt. Head down, I passed the Fisker showroom displaying a pumpkin orange Karma. I didn’t even stop. I marched past a gallery full of hipsters clustered around wall-mounted chunks of metal. Ahead of me, two guys wearing sneakers and tattoos were carefully arranging large black sacks in front of another well-lit gallery window. An assemblage? A performance piece? No, just setting out the garbage.
Then, near 11th Avenue, the icy wind whipped a warm floral perfume into my face and a moment later I noticed the sign for the Dillon Gallery. I had arrived. And I had already begun to experience the “osmo” portion of Volatile Marilyn #5, one of the ten new Iconosms created by Les Christophs.
These hybrid olfacto-visual artworks are the production of Christophe Laudamiel and Christoph Hornetz, the always interesting pair whose goal is “unleashed Perfumery,” an art form free of artistic, emotional and academic constraints. Each work consists of a scent (the Osmo), a visual element (the Icos), and a brief statement of the inspiration or intended experience.
For Volatile Marilyn #5, the scent is “a 21st century wink to Chanel N°5 (1921)” that “captures [Monroe’s] sheer whiteness, her innocence and her indefinable personality” as well as her ephemeral yet larger-than-life presence. It is diffused from a small unit located near Dreaming Marilyn DE#5, a print by photographer Laurent E. Badessi. Located nearest the gallery entrance, this was the scent that drifted out the doors and into the passing gale.
As with all the other works in the exhibit, Les Christophs are casually open about the formulation of Volatile Marilyn #5: “The 3 common ingredients found in both scents [i.e., Chanel N°5 and this piece] are rose extract, jasmine extract and methyl-nonyl aetaldehyde.” I’m not sure what the crowd (and it was a crowd—the large gallery space was soon packed) made of this information, but I found it engaging and illuminating, in the same way a wine menu might mention oaky notes in its Chardonnay. It drew me into the experience and offered contact points between my knowledge and the artists’ intent.
This transparency with respect to formulation is a signature of perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. He doesn’t mind you knowing how he achieves his effects. In Lilac Mon Amour, for example, he explains why natural lilac scent is unextractable from the floral source and how it must be recreated with other molecules from nature and the laboratory. He cheerfully refers to his artistic use of this rendering as a “trompe-nez” effect. The scent, diffused like most of the others inside its own small tent, is paired with a gorgeous print of a lilac blossom by photographer Brian Jones. The accompanying text captures the whimsical attitude of Les Christophs toward their art and audience:
“One can be transported as far as one wishes to go . . . or one can choose to remain under control, coercively preventing one’s own brain from day-dreaming . . . Just relax . . .”It’s hard not to smile while reading this and inhaling the ultra life-like scent.
Not all of the visual elements are prints. In Gone with the Wind, colored threads unraveling from an embroidered cushion trail like scented kite tails in the breeze of a fan. In Fuller Helmets, the visitor raises his head into geodesic frames made of scented plastic. And in Muguet Patch 9, a collection of white stones sit on a swatch of AstroTurf; press them and they light up briefly as you inhale another trompe-nez effect—lily of the valley.
These are early days for olfactory art. There is no definition of it, only examples.The works on display in ICONOSMS are a delight. They are refreshingly free of dogma and politics; they do not attempt to shock. They lead the visitor by the nose and invite him to sample a specific experience. They entertain. And they are wonderfully self-curating.
Les Christophs “ICONOSMS” is on display at the Dillon Gallery, 555 West 25th Street in New York, from January 24 through February 6, 2013.