For visually impaired art fans, Philly museum’s scent-based exhibit ‘leveled the playing field’
By Lisa Bryant for Billy Penn
Dec. 26, 2022
When Denice Brown was invited to tour the immersive olfactory exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, she imagined an encounter of familiar smells of Philadelphia.
“I thought about all the odors I normally smell as I’m walking through the city,” said the 64-year-old North Philadelphia native, who is visually impaired. “A garden, or green peppers and onions from a restaurant.”
Some city smells aren’t so great, Brown acknowledged, “like when someone has urinated in an elevator.” But she still didn’t expect what happened with the work titled “Fear.”
Scandinavian artist Sissel Tolaas created this particular “situation,” as she terms her scent-based works, with “recorded and replicated body sweat from anxious and paranoid men. The wall becomes the skin of the person. Only by touching the wall/skin one can smell the person’s physiological state of mind,” Tolaas explained.
And it was apparently effective. After kneeling down and scratching at the wall, Brown got an up-close whiff of anxiety. “I smelled vomit,” she told Billy Penn, “which I guess is something you might smell in the city.”
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