r e s e a r c h

The Olfactory Autobiography art proposal is based on three areas of research. The biological and psychological connections between scent, emotion and memory, the technologies involved in creating artificial scents with the power to quickly and spontaneously fill an entire room, and investigating artists currently working with these ideas.
 

The first area of research involved reviewing the work, studies and conclusions of researchers,  Dr. Rachel Herz and Linda Buck.
Herz is a psychologist who is particularly interested in the scent, memory, and emotion connection. Buck is more focused on understanding how the brain recognizes and remembers certain scents over time. She discovered that, "memories survive because the axons of neurons that express the same receptor always go to the same place." Their findings provided a very interesting and scientific basis for the general understanding of the connections between scent, emotion and memory, but for my own specific purposes, field research was necessary to complete the proposal. I was interested in the possibility of identifying similarities between the scents people associated with specific words or ideas based on their gender, age, birthplace, current residence, and ethnicity. The following table breaks down each of the eleven participants by category.
 
 
 

participant
age
gender
birthplace
current residence
ethnicity
DB
49
female
Oakland, CA
San Francisco, CA
Chinese/Caucasian
GB
22
female
Omaha, NE
New York, NY
Caucasian
MJ
30
female
Van Nuys, CA
San Francisco, CA
Caucasian
MM
23 
female
Philippines
San Francisco, CA
Filipino
NB
23
female
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco, CA
Caucasian
BC
22
male
Stockton, CA
San Francisco, CA
Caucasian
IO
24 
male
Omaha, NE
Omaha, NE
Caucasian
JO
39
male
Berkeley, CA
Walnut Creek, CA
Japanese
KB
52 
male
Canton, OH
San Francisco, CA
Caucasian
KN
28
male
Japan
San Francisco, CA
Japanese
MW
25
male
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco, CA
Caucasian

 

I presented the participants with a questionnaire. The results were then analyzed to determine if any conclusions could be made
based on their associations. The findings were not completely surprising. Due to the rather small population of the study, it was difficult to draw very definitive conclusions. The responses, as expected, were incredibly varied as each participant had a unique connection with each word on the list. There were still many similar responses to particular words that did not seem to be based on the participant's membership to a specific category, except that the participants are all human. The most logical way to organize
this data seemed to be to compile it based on the popularity or uniqueness of the responses. The following table expresses
these results.
 

  The second area of research involved deciding how to accomplish the installation from a technological standpoint. The idea to
synthesize scent was sparked by the discovery of Joel Bellenson and Dexster Smith's work. Bellenson and Smith met at Stanford and have worked together in the area of biotechnology since. The two created a company called DigiScents that hoped to manufacture peripheral scent emitting devices for personal computers that worked to create thousands of scents from natural materials. The product, iSmell, was manufactured, but not in time for the company to raise enough funding to actually market and sell the device. Despite a great amount of media hype surrounding this product, it never reached the consumer. The device creates scents by combining 128 different scented oils which are combined to create specific smells in response to software prompts. The scent is forced into the air by fans inside the device.
I was left to wonder how to execute the basic principles of iSmell technology on a larger scale in order to fill an entire space with a long cycle of changing scents. Unfortunately, the challenges I identified regarding the use of this technology for my purposes went unanswered as Bellenson and Smith did not respond to my e-mail.
 

The third area of research led me to scent based artist Clara Ursitti. Much like myself, Ursitti says, "as an artist I am intrigued by
how scents can trigger vivid visual memories." Ursitti works with scientist and perfumer, Dr. George Dodd, to produce synthetic "scent portraits" of people, places and events. Ursitti and Dodd are essentially trying to capture a person's essence and then be able to re-create the smell. They imagine selling celebrity scents and starting a pheromone based dating service. Ursitti has already incorporated these ideas into her work. She began by organically bottling her scent in "Eau Claire" and later approached Dodd to work on chemical scent reproduction. They accomplish this by collecting gas borne odors and clothing containing activated carbon that soaks up body odors that are then analyzed in a combined gas/liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry device
that effectively separates molecules by size and weight, this is basically the dissection of a scent. By knowing the molecular structure of a scent, it is easier to simulate it at a later time.

on to proposal...

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