by Mya Stark
Scent provides us with countless moments of pleasure every day—from submerging in soaps and lotions during our morning routine; to being perked up before the coffee even touches our lips; to being tantalized by the food on our plates. Because scent is attached to almost every one of our experiences, selecting a perfume or cologne is more an act of intimacy than one of adornment.
However, it's not often that we think deeply about this sense. The Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO), newly opened in downtown Los Angeles' LA Mart design center, aims to change that. The IAO works in many ways, but its mission remains to "extend the world of scent beyond its traditional boundaries of appreciation and use."
The IAO's founder, Saskia Wilson-Brown, comes from an eclectic background, personally and professionally. Raised between London and Los Angeles, she received her MFA from Central Saint Martins, then worked in the film industry. The olfactory is a recent interest for her, spurred by her discovery of a recent explosion of activity in self-educated, DIY and "audacious" perfumery.
For the IAO, Wilson-Brown gathered a board of perfumers—both classically-trained and "indie"— including a molecular biologist, a sensory psychologist, artists in various media, fragrance industry professionals, a professor of Indian religions and even a YouTube star. To anchor the team, she brought on Kóan Jeff Baysa, a curator and physician with a particular interest in the sensate body, as Program Director.
To Wilson-Brown, the IAO is not about making "pretty-smelling things." It's about "intervention, weirdness, strange juxtapositions, science, discomfort." The IAO brings these about through informal, social education on the topic of scent in the form of events and talks, and via a residency program in which creative practitioners are matched with experts in the olfactory system.
Currently, a number of residents are working on projects which include conducting "scent interviews" in Rwanda and creating a "pleasant-smelling" scent-dispersing device based on riot-gear tear gas canisters with planned deployment in Beverly Hills. For those not able to attend IAO events in person, the institute's online store offers artifacts of their interventions as well as other collaborations, such as a series of scented gold-foil prints inspired by fragrance molecules by Autumnseventy.
Images courtesy of the Institute for Art and Olfaction