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Pascale Cumming-Benson

MA work

Osmic: An Essay on the Forms of Smell

Absorb, seep, perfuse, fume, exhale, submerge. Discourse seems to abhor olfactory indeterminacy and volatility. But discourse is discursus, to run off in different directions, a dispersal, the action of running about. It is in formlessness that the olfactory finds its shape – words for smell pertain to liquids, smoke and breath, drawing in other sensory modes and tactile sensations.

My project is an essay that traces the attitudes to the olfactory, collecting disparate moments, words and ideas that resonate with how the sense of smell has come to be thought of. I wanted to provide a different kind of writing on the sense of smell that would confront some of its common tropes, and explore how these came to be. Historically devalued as the mysterious and unsociable sense, modernity attempted to constrain this disorder. The neutered space evacuated by smell was to be colonised by artificially produced scents.

The sense of smell’s qualities of immediacy, volatility and submergence that had a role in its suppression in fact give smell currency in a culture of experience. It is within these indeterminacies that the olfactory can be found. When ingested, smell is either revivifying, an ‘experience’ – or a source of excess, corruption, consumption and decay…

Info

  • profile
  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Fine Art

    Programme

    MA Critical Writing in Art & Design, 2014

  • Absorb, seep, perfuse, fume, exhale, submerge. Discourse seems to abhor olfactory indeterminacy and volatility. But discourse is discursus, to run off in different directions, a dispersal, the action of running about. It is in formlessness that the olfactory finds its shape – words for smell pertain to liquids, smoke and breath, drawing in other sensory modes and tactile sensations.

    My project is an essay that traces the attitudes to the olfactory, collecting disparate moments, words and ideas that resonate with how the sense of smell has come to be thought of. I wanted to provide a different kind of writing on the sense of smell that would confront some of its common tropes, and explore how these came to be. Historically devalued as the mysterious and unsociable sense, modernity attempted to constrain this disorder. The neutered space evacuated by smell was to be colonised by artificially produced scents.

    The sense of smell’s qualities of immediacy, volatility and submergence that had a role in its suppression in fact give smell currency in a culture of experience. It is within these indeterminacies that the olfactory can be found. When ingested, smell is either revivifying, an ‘experience’ – or a source of excess, corruption, consumption and decay…



  • Degrees

  • BA Hons, Fine Art, University of Reading, 2011
  • Experience

  • Editorial board, ARK: Words and Images from the Royal College of Art Magazine 1950-1978, Royal College of Art, 2014, Editorial board, As is the Sea, Royal College of Art, 2013-2014
  • Publications

  • Angel-water, Ends Meet: Essays on Exchange, Royal College of Art 2014, But Today We Collect Ads, ARK: Words and Images from the Royal College of Art Magazine 1950-1978, Royal College of Art 2014, Water, water, As is the Sea, Royal College of Art 2014