2016, Museumnacht Amsterdam, Mediamatic, Amsterdam (NL)
Love Sweat Love was a dating performance through smell during Museumnacht Amsterdam 2016. It explored the olfactory perception of the human body scent, namely sweat, in a social setting. Between 7:30 p.m. and midnight, “scientists,” donning traditional white lab coats, invited participants to donate scent samples from their underarms; these samples were then collected in glass jars, identified by number, and placed on display. After donating their own scent, participants were encouraged to sniff their way through the wider collection of underarm samples. This experience was guided by a short survey that posed questions to participants regarding their three favorite scents, inquiring about associated memories, feelings, and odor identification (2). Using the contact details provided on the survey forms, “scientists,” notified participants via text message or email when another donor liked their scent. When two participants both fancied each other’s smells, the “scientists” offered to connect the pair and provided them with free drinks at their bar.
Photo: Anisa Xhomaqi and Mediamatic
Love Sweat Love grew out of my research interest in the perception and aesthetics of smell. Olfactory perception plays an integral part in both our relationship with ourselves and with the world, and even though smell is an extremely valuable tool for gathering knowledge, it has historically been stigmatized and repressed by philosophers and psychoanalysts (Le Guérer 2002). The main arguments claim that smell has an animalistic nature and is closely associated with sexuality (Diaconu 2006). By exploring the scent of sweat in relation to physical attraction, Love Sweat Love confronted the neglect and moral repression of the sense of smell in aesthetics and modern psychoanalysis by questioning smell’s historically pejorative relationship to animalism and sexuality.
For instance, philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries associated smell with insanity and animality (Classen et al. 1994) which became a deeply engrained moral judgment. Immanuel Kant did not include either smell or taste in his highly-influential theory of aesthetics. According to him, these two senses encourage subjective sensuous pleasures and displeasures that do not foster the cognitive faculty of reaching a universal understanding of objects. That is to say, Kant, among other philosophers, understood smell as lacking in objectivity. One of Beardsley’s primary arguments in support of the marginalization and exclusion of the sense of smell from aesthetic appreciation is that because smell is utilitarian, i.e., it satisfies primary needs, and does not lend itself to contemplating objects (Benson et al 2001).
For Freud, smell was too closely connected to animalism and sexuality, and had to be transcended in order for civilization to evolve (Drobnick 2000). He argues that when, in the course of evolution, humans developed an upright posture, they lost part of their previously predominant sense of smell, and that this became a factor distinguishing humans from animals. Consequently, in psychoanalysis, olfactory sensitivity was perceived as a primitive characteristic exposing a preoccupation with anal sexuality (Le Guérer 2002). Furthermore, psychiatrist Richard Krafft-Ebening believed that a discernable interest in odors indicated an aberrant sexuality.
(2) Roughly 400 people participated in Love Sweat Love. The survey is currently being evaluated and results are expected in Autumn 2017.
Photo: Anisa Xhomaqi and Mediamatic
Classen, C, Howes, D & Synnott, A 1994, Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell, Routledge, London.
Diaconu, M 2006, ‘Reflections on an Aesthetics of Touch, Smell and Taste’, Contemporary Aesthetics, August 2006. Available from: . [11 December 2016].
Drobnick, J 2000, ‘Inhaling Passions: Art, Sex and Scent’, Sexuality and Culture, volume 4, issue 3, pp 37–56.
Le Guérer, A 2002, ‘Olfaction and Cognition: A Philosophical and Psychoanalytic View ‘, in Olfaction, Taste, and Cognition, eds Rouby, C, Schaal, B, Dubois, D, Gervais, R, Holley, Cambridge University Press, Cambrige (UK) & New York.
Benson, J, Redfern B & Roxbee Cox, J (eds) 2001, Approach to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics Frank Sibley, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York.