Experiencing the Essence of Venice By Claudia De Vos
Scent psychology in Venice
Along with my work as a scent psychologist, I create art and scent objects. The natural scents I use are the lead in my artworks. When I visited the art exhibition the Biennale of Venice, I discovered that several other artists also incorporate scent in their artwork. This inspired me to find out, which scents they used, and why they used them. Please read along.
An artist that works with scent during the Venetian Biennale 2015 is Andrea Morucchio. During my visit, we talk about his artwork located in the perfume museum Palazzo Mocenigo. His installation 'the Rape of Venice' consists of videos, a mosaic floor, sound and scent. Andrea's artwork is basically a plea concerning the overflowing tourism in Venice, turning the city into an amusement park, therefore making it unliveable for its inhabitants. The videos, projected on the walls of the installation, show different newspaper headlines about the consequences of the presence of all these tourists. The videos are projected all around the installation, creating a sense of disorientation. The floor of the installation is made out of diverse mosaics, photographed in the cathedral on the San Marco plaza, and re-assembled. By remodelling the mosaics in different ways, a new mosaic with some recognizable parts, yet very different than the original, is created. The sound we hear in the installation are underwater recordings of the nuts and bolts of boats moving around the Lagunas, disturbing the natural water habitat.
The perfume 'The Essence of Venice' is also vaporized in the installation. This scent was created in collaboration with the perfumers of the Venetian brand Mavive. According to Andrea, the perfume represents the ‘Venetian experience’ with the scent of 'frozen seaweed' as the Key Note. Andrea was inspired by the Russian poet Brodsky, who, while smelling the scent of frozen seaweed, was struck by melancholy and memories of his own city St. Petersburg. For him, this scent experience made him realize that Venice (or should I say the ‘essence of Venice’), no longer existed and was replaced by his personal memories about his hometown.
At the same time, in the artwork, the scent of frozen seaweed is used as a metaphor: for the original and natural state of Venice, that of the unchangeable ocean. Perfume is, according to Andrea, being linked to hope, in this case the hope of a better and more durable future for Venice.
The use of this scent was particularly intriguing to me, also because the ‘Essence of Venice’ is a complex composition, a perfume, and not the simple and natural scent of seaweed. This leaves us questioning, to which extent can we label the perfume as ‘the essence of Venice’, creating a 'universal Venetian experience'? Is the oceanic feel the most important, and what does this 'feel of the ocean' consist out of? The ocean in its natural state doesn't always smell the same, and definitely doesn't always smell good or fresh. Briny is most likely the biggest constant factor in the scent perception of the ocean, but where does briny originate? Is that the seaweed?
After some more sniffing and further identification of the perfume, the marine notes (ozonic/aquatic) are the first to be noticed– which is most likely not obtained from a natural source, as most marine notes are not naturally produced. They are created by a combination of components, categorized as ozonic notes, the most important marine note being the synthetic Calone (methylbenzodioxepinone). Calone's scent is similar to that of seawater, and is also often compared to the smell of watermelon and oysters. In detail: Calone contains the forged chemical structure of pheromones, excreted by a species of brown algae, a type of seaweed. This component was discovered by the pharmaceutical multinational Pfizer in 1966.
The perfume ‘The Essence of Venice’ smells clean and appears to be little fresh sweet. It's a scent that fits with the 'clean consciousness' of a 'fabricated, desirable, spacious world'. The smell is refined, and definitely not as raw as the ocean can be, like ‘nature that is judgmental’, which is what I probably expected having heard the story behind the scent. This makes me wonder, what about the pure natural scent of seaweed? Would this have made the experience of the installation even stronger?
There are few natural extractions with marine notes available. There is the precious extract of seaweed, (Fucus vesiculosus) kindly provided me as a sample by the company Biolandes and, a little cheaper and more pure, because of its extraction method of hydro-destillation, the essential oil from sea fennel (crithmum maritimum) which contains typical marine notes.
As currently there are no data available concerning the active components of seaweed, I will describe the scent of the seaweed and further focus on sea fennel.
The seaweed is a thick, green extract (an absolue) made out of dried seaweed material. According to Biolandes it is mainly used as an perfume ingredient. The sample smells leathery and mossy: very much like nori-leaves used for making Sushi, which of course is also seaweed. It is certainly an interesting marine note.
The main component of sea fennel is gamma-terpinene (41-68%), which is a monoterpene with properties that has a positive action on the respiratory system and can dilates the bronchi, because of it's antibacterial, mucus dissolving and antiviral ingredients.
They both remind me of the somewhat similar effect of the briny breeze coming from the ocean. Looking from this perspective we encounter the difference and similarity with perfume: both have their own specific scent, but the scent of essential oil of sea fennel also has an effect on certain bodily functions which the perfume does not have.
The question that remains is whether or not the scent of sea fennel, being a 'raw material' in comparison with a perfume such as the ‘Essence of Venice’, is a pleasant or wearable scent. In retro perspective of the artwork: let us not forget that we can now bring a little part of Venice, like Brodsky’s memory or like our personal memory, back home in the form of a bottle of perfume. Thus giving us an opportunity, either as observer or as tourists, to become a part of the artwork.
The installation “The Rape of Venice” is to be experienced as part of the Biennale of Venice at Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice until November 22, 2015