If you walked into CCA's nave this week you would have been greeted by what appears to be a primitive laboratory experiment, hard metal rods lightly supporting odd flasks and stoppers. But if you got too close to a particular few of them you would have gotten a face full of rank so heinous it stayed in your nostrils and thoughts for hours after. Which was the wonderfully participatory aspect of the Olfactory Archive, curated by David Gissen and Irene Cheng. It encouraged you to share your most shocking favorites with unsuspecting classmates and passersby.
Not all the ambrosias were so offensive, there was a mix of the mellifluous and the mephitic and the mundane. If you were interested in what Philip Johnson's Glass House smelled like, not at one point in time but indexed by decade, then you would have been treated to a noisome thirty year evolution from construction to period colognes to cigarette smoke. For sheer fetid ferocity the hands down (and up nose) winners were "Pollution", "The Smell of Manure in the French Countryside", and "Paris 1738", a malodorous mixture of "foul breath, human body stink, and overflowing gutters." As the introduction to the experimental history symposium Test Sites the exhibit provoked new ideas of architectural representation and preservation.
But for me it made me question the power of smell to re-align preference and memory. My favorite was "Coal Soot", a smoky scent redolent of camp fires and whiskeys. Except that it was much more awful than that. It's just that last week my kitchen caught fire and the smell of smoke has pervaded the apartment ever since. Which makes me wonder if, like the human waste recycling Stillsuits of Dune that are putrid at first and become comforting over time, my own sense of smell had adjusted not only to not notice the intensity of the smoky stench in my room but to actually re-assign it to the feeling of home.
(Photos by Jim Norrena)