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Student Showcase Archive
Show RCA 2019

Kate McLean

Show RCA work


Smellscape Mapping: Mediating Olfactory Perception

Our olfactory sense makes a substantial contribution to the involuntary links we form between memory, emotion, and place. How we feel; where we are. Yet smell remains an undervalued and under researched sense that possesses the capacity to induce time-travel and momentary location-displacement, translating anonymous space into personalised place.

How might you re-experience your environment if you focus on your olfactory sense to explore anew? Does this focus on single sensory perception create barriers or open up a new world? What might we learn about ourselves in relation to our environment, through our sense of smell? Does this new olfactory information alter our understanding of everyday senses of place?

Current understanding of olfactory landscapes, or smellscapes, is limited and theorists have suggested that a post-disciplinary field of enquiry, called toposmia, investigating the spatial location of smells and their relation to particular notions of place is required. This practice-based study will investigate smell perceptions of urban environments, communicating this vast array of hidden, and often invisible, information through a series of static and dynamic, map art experiences for a general public audience. It will explore theories that the perceived smellscape is temporal, fragmentary, ephemeral and episodic, and explore the extent to which odours cannot be considered in isolation from other senses.

Understanding and communicating our olfactory landscapes requires active participation and engagement. Working from the premise that we gain olfactory knowledge through activity I suggest that mapping as a practice is an effective agent for urban olfactory spatial engagement, which can also humanise space.


  • A practicing designer, cartographer, collector of smells and their stories, Kate McLean is a multi-disciplinary artist working in visual and olfactory communication.

    Her research links sensory perception and urban environments in the form of sensory maps. She investigates how smell, in particular, contributes to our understanding of place.

    Creator of seven 'smellmap' installations, Kate exhibits internationally. She and her work have featured on BBC, radio, TV, print and online media worldwide. Her Scottish maps are in the National Library of Scotland’s permanent collection.

    Senior Lecturer Graphic Design at CCCU, Kate is a member of the International Society of Typographic Designers and the British Cartographic Society.

Royal College of Art