On the Scent
What smell reminds you of home, makes you feel homesick, or just makes you feel sick?
On the Scent is a performance about the relationship between the sense of smell, emotion and memory. The piece takes place in a domestic setting where audience members are invited on intimate and aromatic journeys. Scents mingle and intertwine in the living-room, kitchen and bedroom as three distinctly different performers (Hill, Paris and Lois Weaver) exude haunting, darkly humorous and seductive essences throughout the house.
On their journey through the house the audience are offered exquisitely perfumed chocolates and shots of tequila but at the end are asked for something in return. Before they leave Weaver asks each one of the audience what smell reminds them of home, makes them feel homesick or just makes them sick. She films their responses, adding them to Curious’s expansive global archive of ‘smell memories’.
Touring internationally since 2003, On the Scent has been performed hundreds of times in many countries from China to Brazil, Australia to the USA, Finland to the UK. It has been widely cited as key example of live or immersive performance, for its unique investigation of the olfactory in live work, and for its collaboration with the biological sciences.
“On the Scent (2003), compellingly exemplifies a scented art of memory, one that capitalizes on the poignancy and pungency of smell’s symbolic nature. The work achieves its visceral impact by being close-up and intimate. Traditional theatres tend to limit the effective use of scent, for the separation of performers from the audience and the size of most seating arrangements make the circulation of scents di cult to control. Here, though, in an ordinary residence, the audience experiences what could be called an olfactory memory theatre, where scents appear with striking affect right in their faces. rough an experiential theatre, olfactory symbols shock, entice, overwhelm, irritate, and intrigue, much like one could imagined being experienced originally in the performers’ lives.
Whether or not the gripping scenarios by Weaver, Hill and Paris are true, the scents convey an un-anticipated and sometimes alarming intensity. Thee distinctions between listening and feeling, past and present, another’s experience and the one’s own, are collapsed so that whatever trauma described seems to be happening again to everyone present – engendering an unusual form of communitas through the sharing of smells.”Jim Drobnick,
Smell: The Hybrid Art Form, 2014
“… the ordinariness of the domestic setting is transcended and transformed into something quite extraordinary.”Lyn Gardner,
Guardian Pick of the Week
As part of developing On the Scent, Hill and Paris worked at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore with a team headed by Dr Upinder Bhalla. The work was written up in New Scientist, cited in many performance studies publications and informed a sister project, Essences of London, which created a composite portrait of London by capturing city life through the sense of smell. Funded by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England. Produced by Artsadmin.