Institute for Art and Olfaction: Saskia Wilson-Brown Interview #1


Post by Azar


Today the Australian perfume Junkies are thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Saskia Wilson-Brown, the founder of the LA based Institute for Art and Olfaction. Winners are listed HERE<<<JUMP

Institute for Art and Olfaction

Institute for Art and Olfaction Logo

Saskia Wilson-Brown Interview

Saskia, what led you to the idea of an Institute for Art and Olfaction?

I was interested in perfumery, and I was hoping to learn about perfume, but was unable to travel to France or the UK for an extended period of time. So I thought, well, why not set up a space to learn here in LA? That, and I also wanted to see how to incorporate scent into a fine arts context- which ultimately I felt there was little support for. In other words, I set it up for fairly selfish reasons, but also because I felt that it was a travesty that creative people didn’t have access to this very creative medium. I felt like if my artist friends knew what could be accomplished with scent, they’d use scent in their practices. And then there was a bit of the egalitarian in me that railed at the inaccessibility of it all.

How has your background as an artist, filmmaker and independent producer shaped the development of the IAO?

I think it has helped inasmuch as being an outsider to the perfume industry has allowed me to approach it in a way that makes sense for other outsiders. Having said that, it’s been an extremely steep learning curve, and knowing now how little I knew then, it was a bit naive and/or gutsy of me. Sometimes, though, that’s an advantage, no?

Do you consider your primary function at the Institute to be that of an educator, an impresario/promoter, an artist or something else?

Probably more of impresario/promoter aka cat-herder. I try to bring in people more qualified than I am to oversee the education and do the art projects. On an oblique but related note: The difference between being a producer and being a production assistant is merely a question of perception.

Scent as performance art has become a popular means of artistic expression. Scent infused video/art installations, stories told with fragrance, dance and music as well as exhibits of colors and odors are among the many interdisciplinary projects that include olfaction. What kind of innovations do you see the IAO bringing to this already crowded stage? Are there any collaborative projects on the IAO horizon?

We just finished a big project where we recreated a failed scent concert from 1902 by a man called Sadakichi Hartmann, so we’re well aware of the history for this trend – it goesSaskia Art & Olfaction back a long way. Just check out the research being done around scent obsession in the Victorian era! The most maddening thing to me is when people call themselves innovators when the very idea they are proposing has been tried a hundred times, for a hundred years. It just shows them to be bad at research, and maybe a little too good at self-promotion.

So – knowing that, being VERY aware of how little what we do can truly be called innovative – we’re very careful not to bandy those big words around, and not to overstate what we do. However, we are keen to support people who we feel use scent in their practices in a meaningful and conceptual way – and are on the lookout for truly innovative ideas.

A big challenge for us is finding projects that get beyond the gimmick of scent, and truly reach something that rises to the realm of high concept, fine art, the human condition, or the outer fringes of technology or philosophy. Luckily, there are some incredibly talented people out there, some of whom we are working with already and some of whom we are keen to work with. Nothing we can announce just yet, unfortunately.

(Azar: I have to interject here that I absolutely agree! As a part of the 1980s performance art scene I was aware that a lot of what we did was simply offer a 20th century perspective on the work of earlier artists and poets, in particular the French Symbolists. In those day, though, the grant money seemed to flow in direct proportion to the number of disciplines we could involve and the amount of moral or cultural outrage we could elicit. It is so refreshing to see that your approach is so much more honest and truly artistic.)

There has been flurry of interest this spring surrounding Le Laboratoire’s development of the “oPhone” by Dr. David Edwards. The “oPhone” and a projected “olfactory social network” will launch on July 10. What kind of applications could you imagine for this device or for an “olfactory social network”? What role, if any, would this kind of technology play in future IAO projects?

It’s all very exciting! Technology will of course play a vital role in future projects, but – again – functional technology is one thing, but the concept underpinning it is the crux of the issue, for us. We hope to get to the place where the projects we work on/with access something beyond the tools they make use of. Put another way, if all you ever did was make paintings about the fact that you were able to paint, or cooked food that merely demonstrated the fact that you were able to cook food… Well… It would get boring.

There is MORE>>>>> Later today Azar talks to Saskia Wilson-Brown about the Institute for Art and Olfaction Awards 2014.

Join the mailing list:
For in-person visits and snail mail:
The Institute for Art and Olfaction
3023 W. 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA. 90020
Phone: (213) 616-1744
Saskia invites interested persons to drop by and also attend an open blending session, class or event.

4 thoughts on “Institute for Art and Olfaction: Saskia Wilson-Brown Interview #1

  1. Wonderful Azar! I wanted to know more background to IAO, this is just what I’ve been waiting for. Agog for Part Two…


    • Thank you, Sister Mary! The IAO is a great resource for anyone interested in perfumes, even though we all might not be able to take advantage of the workshops and events. Saskia is so creative and was fun to interview too!
      Azar xx


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