How performance and “internet fragrance” made me think of the role of scent in the metaverse

What is a scent made of? Recently, two experiences made me reflect on the multifaceted role of scent, which acquired notoriety during the pandemic when many of us lost it. It all started when, next to my friend Kate, I visited the exhibition Sonic Acts Biennial 2022, in Amsterdam, where a performance by artist Cesar Majorana, took place. Upon our arrival, Majorana asked each participant what kind of memory we would want to recreate through “the medium” of scent. I thought of chewing gum and colorful drinks that, while I avoid nowadays for their unhealthy nature, brought back happy memories of my childhood, while Kate thought about her visits to the church as a kid.  Rather than creating a different scent for each one of us, the artist, who has explored the evocative potential of scent in diverse projects, unexpectedly came up with a fragrance that encapsulated both our memories. The result was a mix of Red Bull and burned hair. It felt intense and real. It reminded me of my student days during exams.

Aside from being a fun experience, this interactive project made me think about how our memories are made of the small yet meaningful details we take from each experience, in this case, the aroma of a particular food or place. It also made me reflect on how, rather than enjoying what is before our eyes, we all live through our screens which, while rich in audio-visual stimuli, are lacking the presence of scent.  Furthermore, the scent is also missing from the virtual reality era, called metaverse, to which we are rapidly heading. Some startups had made efforts to create technologies to recreate smell but they still are in their initial stages. This had to do with the fact that, due to its complexity, reproducing real-world odors in a lab is a challenge and the industry does not see this as a priority.

While immersed in these thoughts, I came across another interdisciplinary project , that looks at these issues the other way around. Instead of reproducing real-life scents, the project intends to uncover what the internet smells like. When opening the “internet” fragrance, called Hmmosphere, I instantly thought of an unventilated room where computers have been on for hours. On a metaphorical level, this scent reflects how the internet “traps us” in everything but the present if we don't know how to use it as a tool for our advantage. Hopefully, we will soon learn to appreciate the colors, smells, and textures that surround us more. Hopefully, we will soon take the time to pause, go outside, breathe, and enjoy the beauty of this world.

Author Dima Bondarenko

Editor Constanza Ontiveros, Art History PhD

Jan. 27, 2023

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