The blog of author Dennis Cooper



Clara Ursitti
Paul Vanouse
Sean Raspet
Peter de Cupere
Anicka Yi
Joseph Beuys
Oswaldo Maciá
Sissel Tolaas
Sands Murray-Wassink
Martynka Wawrzyniak
Brian Goeltzenleuchter
Koo Jeong A
Federico Díaz
Kristoffer Myskja
Wolfgang Georgsdorf
Lygia Clark


Clara Ursitti Eau Claire (1993)
In 1993, the Italian-Canadian artist Clara Ursitti had the novel idea of creating an olfactory self-portrait. Instead of the visual supremacy used until then, Clara presented the unusual Eau Claire. A concoction of molecules combined in such a way that it mimics the artist’s body odor–vaginal secretions and menstrual fluids, specifically. Eau Claire is a precious piece, on its way to evaporation, so it’s not possible for visitors to smell the small drops of scented liquid inside. However, the minimalist look of it and the aura of the piece makes this moment seem solemn and unique.


Paul Vanouse Labor (2019)
If you’re thinking that this exhibit will be a bunch of sweaty laborers standing around in a room, you’re wrong. It might smell that way, but the odors that you’re smelling will be “formed by bacteria procreating in three industrial fermenters in the middle of the Burchfield Art Center’s project space. Each fermenter incubates a unique species of human skin bacteria responsible for the primary scent of sweat: Staphylococcus epidermis, Coryne and Propionibacterium. As these bacteria digest simple sugars and fats, they create the distinct smells associated with human exertion, stress and anxiety. Their scents will combine in the central chamber in which a sweatshop icon, the white t-shirt, is infused as scents disseminate. This odor is expected to grow stronger throughout the exhibition.


Sean Raspet Residuals (2014)
The show includes Micro-encapsulated Surface Coating, an installation, which invites the viewer to scratch and sniff a custom-made emulsion. The work starts with a process in which the air of Jessica Silverman Gallery is analyzed using a “SUMMA canister.” The stainless steel vessel initially contains a vacuum and collects air from the surrounding environment over the course of a week. Raspet then sends the accumulated air to a lab to determine its molecular composition and then creates a liquid mixture that is a many thousand-fold condensation of the chemical signature of the gallery’s air. The artist then sends this liquid to be “micro- encapsulated” into a “scratch-and-sniff” emulsion that is spray coated on the gallery’s surfaces. The background smell of most interior environments often comes from their construction and cleaning materials. This chemical signature corresponds to the gallery’s ambient scent profile, a kind of condensed olfactory background noise.


Peter de Cupere The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet (2014)
‘The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’ is a paintbrush made of pubic hair and as paint the scent of vagina. It’s a reference to L’Origine du Monde by Gustave Courbet.


Anicka Yi You Can Call Me F (2015)
For ‘You Can Call Me F’ at The Kitchen, New York, this spring, Yi filled the space with the scent of Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery – ‘the ultimate patriarchal-model network in the art world’. This mixed with the smell of another, less defined, less mobilized network: the women of the New York art world. To produce Grabbing At Newer Vegetables (2015), Yi and a synthetic biologist from MIT, Tal Danino, cultivated bacteria donated by one hundred female artists, collectors, dealers and curators on a bed of agar. The smell was bad and, unlike the smell of Gagosian, overpowering. It described the threat of a body that refuses to smell ‘clean’ and ‘pure’: to smell of nothing, like a gallery space, fresh air or clean water.


Joseph Beuys Geruchsplastik (Odor Sculpture) (1978)
Glass canning jar with printed information, ethereal oils and clorophyl, height 33 cm. Signed and numbered 8/30 on a paper label on the lower margin.


Oswaldo Maciá Ten Notes for a Human Symphony (2009)
In 2009 artist Oswaldo Maciá created Ten Notes for a Human Symphony, a smell sculpture presented at the II Thessaloniki Biennale in Greece. For the production of this work, Maciá collected the hair of people from across the world. The hair samples were then taken to a perfume lab in Paris, where they were analyzed using a technique known as Head-space. Based on the Head-space results, an expert perfumer interpreted the smell sample from each country, crafting ten singular scents. Ten Notes for a Human Symphony presents these scents on hanging curtains arranged in a circular composition. The scent is released through motorized atomizers on top of each curtain. The movement of the fabric, therefore, disperses the odors in what the artist calls a symphony of human smells.


Sissel Tolaas Smell Memory Kit (2015)
With over 400 receptors in the nose, humans distinguish an estimated thousands, millions, or even up to a trillion scents, and scent memory. Scent memory also, for better or worse, lasts for what seems like forever. “Visual memory remains 30 percent after three months, smell memory remains 100 percent after one year,” says Berlin-based scent artist Sissel Tolaas. “Why not use that?”In the near future, we will. Tolaas, working with Vienna’s Supersense Lab, recently created the Smell Memory Kit, the first commercial product that takes “smell snapshots.” So now, along with posting a selfie on Instagram to commemorate that amazing vacation, you will be able to make memories with your nose. “The intention is to give that thing you want to remember—a wedding, a trip—a smell,” says Tolaas.The first 200 limited-edition kits, now available for sale at the online Supersense store, have 26 main categories, from Air, Business and City to XXL, Yes and Zoo. There are subcategories too; in total, 1,000 smells are in the kit’s archive. The starter pack ($109) includes a metal capsule and three sample smells in sealed ampoules—tiny glass vials.


Sands Murray-Wassink It’s Still Materialistic, Even If It’s Liquid (From Me To You) (2013)
In 2013, Rotterdam’s Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art saw Sands Murray-Wassink in the nude, standing before a pair of glass cabinets packed with perfume bottles of varied sizes, designs, and vintages. He was performing his work It’s Still Materialistic, Even If It’s Liquid (From Me To You) (2013) at the invitation of artist-publisher-mystic AA Bronson as part of a sprawling exhibition of queer and feminist artworks Bronson had curated. Across his bare torso, the words “ACCEPT–ANCE ART” were painted in blue. Throughout the piece, Murray-Wassink offered perfume consultations to gallery passerby, fashioned like an empathic variation on the typical perfume counter clerk. As in much of Murray-Wassink’s work, this interactive performance was expressive of an emotional potential for connection. The artist considers this a form of sociality, “When I sniff with other people, be they salespeople or perfume friends, I find myself reveling in the fact of being human and sharing an open secret that we are all organic and ‘smelly’ as people. It is a bit abject, and also something I am thinking a lot about, because much of my work is blunt and gross and messy and not meant to be beautiful at all, and then there is this counterpoint of beauty in perfume. Because blinding floral beauty is usually what sweeps me off my feet.”


Martynka Wawrzyniak Smell Me (2012)
Smell Me presented at a solo exhibition at envoy enterprises, consisted of a scent chamber and art object installation that derived from my year long investigation capturing my biological essence.

Working with a research team of Hunter College Chemistry students under the guidance of Professor Donna McGregor, I underwent multiple experiments to collect aromatic elements from my body. I was subject to rigorous sessions to extract the concentrated essence of my sweat, tears, and hair, in order to create an purely olfactory self-portrait that engages visitors in a visceral form of communication, without visuality as primary form.

In order to fully immerse the installation space with the scent of my bodily aromas, I collaborated with the re-known professional perfumer Yann Vasnier of Givaudan and scent director Dawn Goldworm of 12.29 on synthetically reconstituting the organic essences for diffusion. These aromas were released inside a specially designed scent chamber into which visitors could enter and partake in a solitary experience.

A selection of ten original organic essences were displayed in tear shaped chemistry vials, which rested in hand-blown glass stands. Three candles, made of paraffin that was scraped off my body and melted into 250 ml chemistry beakers, were also exhibited. As bottled performances of my biological functions, these art objects challenged the devaluation of the body and the cultural denial of complex, corporal communication.


Brian Goeltzenleuchter Odophonics: A performance for scent and chamber ensemble (2016)
Odophonics, a performance for scent and musicians, is an ongoing collaboration between Sean Francis Conway and Brian Goeltzenleuchter. The performance is a jumping off point to explore Piesse’s Odophone to test new propositions about how one experiences smell, particularly in relation to sound. The musical component in Odophonics uses Minimalist structures such as consonant harmony, drones and polyrhythms to create gradual chord transformations. All the notes in this ambient soundscape can be found on Piesse’s scale. As the performers play the composition, Goeltzenleuchter releases the corresponding scent notes in time. Each scent is faithfully derived from Piesse’s scale. Together, the musical and olfactory harmonics gradually shift. Specific to the performance is the question: What relationships exist between concurrent perceptions of smell and sound?


Koo Jeong A Before the Rain (2011)
A visitor stepping into Koo Jeong A’s installation for the Dia Art Foundation at the Hispanic Society of America may be overwhelmed by an unexpected assault on the senses. Like a cedar closet, the almost empty gallery has its own distinct aroma, in this case an olfactory artwork, entitled Before the Rain, which is meant to capture the atmosphere of an Asian city on a steamy day. Over a three-month period, the Korean artist worked with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic of International Flavors & Fragrances, a leading company in the design of synthetic scents, who distilled her memories and impressions into an amalgam of smells—dry woods, minerals, fern, musk, tars, and lichens—to summon the sensation the artist remembered.


Federico Diaz LacrimAu (2010)
LacrimAu directly reacts to the emotional state of individual visors. The testing room with a monumental sculpture in the shape of a human tear cast of pure gold serves as a basic interface. The shape of the reference point of the human tear has been selected due to a large scope of connotations in meaning with which it is wrapped up. On the basal level, the tear can represent the dichotomy of joy and sadness. The visitor himself sits in the glass cube and is equipped with EEG sensors registering his brain activity. Experienced emotions, provoked by hectic surroundings are intensified and concentrated through the reference point of the golden tear and through the data flow they become bio signals. Each signal frequency then has actual essence of various plants assigned. The test results then form a material state consisting of individually mixed fragrance. The smell as one of the primary human senses mediates the emotional recording of the moment and fixes it in the memory. Thus, it is much easier to recall the situation when smelling it again.


Kristoffer Myskja Smoking Machine (2007)
The Norwegian artist Kristoffer Myskja creates complex kinetic sculptures that operate like a perpetuum mobile. With his Smoking Machine, we are presented with the absurd idea of a machine that smokes cigarettes and produces a fume that is thoroughly detrimental to health – human death.


Wolfgang Georgsdorf Smeller 2.0 (2012)
SMELLER is a genuine organ, an olfactokinetic art device for composing, producing, interpreting, programming, recording, storing and playing back compositions made up of scents and scent chords. With the scent organ, thousands of scents can be played in place of music notes. They exude pure music for the nose, abstract or narrative, besides offering further possibilities to combine scents and commingle them with sound, image, film, theater or dance.


DSR Scent Card Dispenser (2013)
DSR’s installation for “The Art of the Scent” embraces the ephemeral purity of olfactory art itself. Their minimalist exhibition is, like any good minimalist work, more complex than it first appears. The architects lined three walls of the nearly empty gallery space with a row of gently sloping, almost organic “dimples.” Each identical dimple is a card dispenser that shoots out a card as a visitor approaches. When the card is withdrawn its holder is met with an automatic burst of fragrance released by a hidden diffusion machine. I was told the burst doesn’t represent the scents’ “top notes” as one might expect, but more closely resembles the lingering trail of each commercial fragrance—as if a woman had recently walked through the room wearing the perfume. The scent hovers in the air for a few seconds then disappears completely. And no one has to worry about leaving the exhibition smelling like a perfume sample sale because every exhibited fragrance has been specially modified to resist sticking on skin or clothes. The ephemerality of perfume is reinforced by the illuminated wall texts explaining each scent, which periodically disappear completely, leaving the gallery devoid of anything but pure olfactory art.


Lygia Clark Máscaras Sensoriais (1967 – 1968)
Clark’s Máscaras Sensoriais [Sensory Masks], enveloped participants’ heads in sculptural hoods. Tucked into the hood’s folds were sachets of varied textures and aromas (lavender, cloves, a salty seaside odor). Combined with a disorienting reduction of visual stimuli, these sachets would spur participants’ disengagement with their visual surroundings in favor of a rediscovery of bodily experience and an immersive inner world.




p.s. Hey. ** DC, Hello there. ** David Ehrenstein, Oh, how nice that Poetry Foundation highlighted that post. I didn’t know. Very cool, thank you. ** Sypha, My pleasure, duh. Ah, gotcha, on the selective deleting. Instinct trusting, always key. ** Jesse Bransford, Jesse! How about dem apples? Man, so good to see you,  and I’m glad you’re okay with the rebirth. Miss you dearly too! I want to see your octagon! I want you to come to Paris for all kinds of reasons including visiting me! Lots of love. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I think Jesse was angling for books he thoughts readers here might not already know about. Your essay is lit! I’ll go read it post-haste. Everyone, the venerable Steve Erickson has written a think piece/essay about the one and only Pete Buttigieg. If you want to get to the bottom of your thoughts and feelings about that guy, you are strongly encouraged to read Mr. Erickson’s ‘Mayor Normal’, which is here. No, I’ve been spared Dale’s hatchet. He mostly goes after very successful or very critical acclaimed writers that he’s somehow jealous of, I think, and I am neither. There was an interview with him years ago where someone asked him what writers he liked, and he said he ‘used to’ like me, whatever that means. I like the sound of the potential voiceover. ** Bill, The Pat Hearn/American Fine Art book is very interesting, at least to me/someone who was very into those galleries and their programs. I co-curated a show at Pat Hearn Gallery in the ’80s, and I thought Colin De Land (Pat’s husband who ran American Fine Art) was the coolest person in the world. The book is called ‘The Conditions of Being Art’. Your report on ‘Midsommar’ sounds like what I think I’ll probably think of it. Well, you and I and hopefully most interesting people know that financial success doesn’t guarantee quality and, well, usually guarantees the opposite? ** KK, Dude, I can’t even imagine, severe despiser of heat that I am. Do what needs to be done to protect those brain cells. I got your email, thank you, and I’ll send Matt my coordinates today. No, in fact I don’t believe I’ve even heard of that Sade talking dick film, although I don’t know how something like that could have remained a mystery. Huh. I’ll track down what I can track down. I hope ‘PGL’ and a summer day weren’t too diametrically opposed. Later gator. ** _Black_Acrylic, Indeed! Okay, thanks for the ‘Midsommar’ review. Gotta see that thing. It must be playing here. And we’re due another terrible heatwave on Monday, and I’ll need escape hatches. ** MyNeighbourJohnTurtorro, Hi, bud. Uh, things are basically okay here, I think. Except for, you know, it being miserable summertime. Thank you a lot for the  Yves Tumor report. That tells me a lot and really helps. I will for utterly sure see him first chance. Shit, maybe he’s touring over here right now. If I missed a Paris gig, I’ll … do something bad. You haven’t seen Sunn0)))? You’re in for quite a … treat. Singular experience. Don’t be a tough guy and not bring earplugs because you will be very sorry for days and days if you don’t. Seriously. Honestly, I think ‘Life Metal’ is their greatest so far, or it’s my favorite. Incredible. I also am very high on ‘Black One’ too. I’m happy you’re reading Robbe-Grillet and getting that effect. Yeah, man. Where to go next? Hm, he’s pretty consistently great. My personal favorite is ‘Recollection of the Golden Triangle’. ‘Project for a Revolution in New York’ is fantastic. But, really, they’re all quite stellar. Excellent Thursday to the max to you! ** NLK, Hi! Very interesting, thanks, about your methodology. I’m a big methodology/process junkie. I’ve never shot in 16mm. I think not having endless freedom/footage would be hard to work with for me, but, on the other hand, the beautiful look. I’ll be curious to hear how that format changes your ways of shooting. Yes, I am reading the Loren Glass book, exactly! How cool that you’ve studied with him. Yeah, it’s a terrific book. I’m very into it. Please do tell him I admire the book a a lot of give him my respects if that’s something you think he would want to know. Thank you. And thank you for the good words about ‘PGL’. I’m obviously very happy and honored that it interested you. Yeah, thanks very much for saying that. Have a great one. ** Kyler, Ha ha. I did wonder if Jesse’s post might pique your interest. Wow, you’re going skinhead. Why not? It’s obviously fucking hot enough for it. You might want to spread some sunblock on that thing for a while. ** Right. Today’s thematic is odor. As always, please investigate. Thank you. See you tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Regarding today, I trust y’all recall “Smell-O-Vision” and the “Scratch and Sniff” cards John Waters provided for “Polyester”

    Dale Peck wants to olay “Michael” in a “Reality Series” version of “The Boys in The Band”

    My favorite Robbe-Grillet is his film “Glissements Progressif du Plaisir” — which is available on DVD

    Latest FaBlog; SEND HER BACK ! ! ! !

  2. Bernard

    I’m with David E: Has anyone really surpassed Polyester? I remember how thrilling it was. Somewhere in a box there’s my a little bit scratched card — unless it went up in the Fire. I must have told you at some point that my parents’ house burned down? That was a very weird experience. It’s a bad thing that it happened, but getting to walk through the ruins of the house you grew up in is an experience I commend to everyone.
    I actually like Patrick Süsskind’s Perfume, though I know a lot of people don’t. I liked how it changed my mind about my reception of odor.
    I did not yesterday express my gratitude for the repost of Jesse B’s grimoire post. I am a big fan. When I had my bar mitzvah, one friend of my parents’ who really got me gave a box of random Jewish-interest books as a gift. There was some stuff on Zohar and Kabbalah, and Idries Shah’s Secret Lore of Magic. So that’s what got me started. I’m still interested in Kabbalah and read Gershom Scholem sometimes to this day. I think magic is a great field for applied semiotics, and I think about it often when I am trying to understand politics, theater, “performativity” (eucchh I hate that word but it applies). Jesse B probably knows the stuff Ioan Couliano wrote about the roots of modern public relations in John Dee’s magic. I’d like to get to the Occult Humanities conference this year, but with all the traveling I’m doing, I don’t know if it’ll work out.
    Speaking of big fans: What are we going to do about this heat next week?!! (I’ve been saving that one.) Today I looked up trains and rooms for a trip to Brest, where the high will be 28 when Paris is 39 (JESUS CHRIST!!!), but I don’t think I can really afford that. Still . . . Is there a very cold place in Paris to hide out? I’m pretty sure I can’t find a cheap air conditioned hotel to hide in.

  3. Nik

    Hey Dennis!

    An “olfactory self-portrait” is a pretty astounding concept. This all made me realize there’s not nearly enough scent based art… probably. Maybe not though, that could be so unpleasant.
    How’s it going? I’m back at Bard now, and it’s horrifically hot most of the time, fortunately farming in the morning means I don’t get the worst of it. Summer is totally my least favorite season by a ton, but this year its not affecting me in any significant way. You?
    Congrats on getting published in the I TRANSGRESS anthology! I’ll have to order it ASAP, it sounds like a totally fascinating round up. Have you been working on that new book lately? Based on the excerpt, it seems a lot more autobiographical than usual. Or is that totally off the mark?
    Yeah, the Sarajevo stay was really important to me in a lot of ways. For some reason, while I was there, I totally changed the way I write, and it’s resulting in (what I really think are) way way more interesting results than when I was trying to do sparser stuff. I think Maldoror and King of Joy (and making films, strangely) were all gigantic keys, and I’m also reading “The Thief’s Journal” right now, which is proving to be another one. So maybe there’ll be something to show from this soon!! How is your new book different formally? I know you’ve said in the past that you totally switch up the way you write your books every new one. Is this one at the point yet where you know how that’s gonna take shape?
    Also I love that the venerable NLK is here!! Hey bud!
    Any plans for the weekend?

  4. NLK

    I passed your message on.

    & I’m today’s x-ray patient:

    Wishing you good smells today

  5. _Black_Acrylic

    That looks to be a very covetable Beuys edition there. His artworks always have a seemingly effortless charisma about them.

    I may have posted it before but still, here is an olfactory artwork I made in 2011 inspired by roadside memorials to car crashes – Maquette for a Memorial (silk forget-me-nots with Comme des Garçons 2 Man eau de toilette).

  6. MyNeighbourJohnTurturro

    Hi Dennis,
    Summertime? I don’t even know what that is. We don’t get that in Scotland. Just sudden bursts of sunshine followed by endless days of soggy humid greyness.
    Yeah, I am completely with you on ‘Life Metal’, it has dominated my playlist since May or something. I just stick my headphones on and get lost in those deep warm drones. You heard the new Ulver? Well, it’s not that new, but that is another album I can’t stop listening to. They’re a fascinating group.
    I will for sure grab the two Robbe-Grillet novels you mentioned and gobble them up.
    There was something else I wanted your opinion on, but my brain has fogged over, this ghastly humidity is the cause, I’m sure of it. Anyway, some of these installations are pretty wacky! Until the next time.

  7. Steve Erickson

    Wow, I didn’t know Ulver had a new album out. I just headed over to Bandcamp and I’m listening to it now. This is a really good piece of drone-metal.

    Gay City News ran a separate piece today by Ed Sikov attacking Peck’s essay specifically, closing with a critique of his “pornographic” description of diarrhea in MARTIN AND JOHN.

    I am dreading the 99-degree (Fahrenheit) weather on Saturday so much. I’ve spent too much of the summer so far sitting around my apartment because I don’t want to leave its comfortable air conditioning.

  8. Misanthrope

    Dennis, I wonder sometimes if smell isn’t our deepest sense.

    Yes, oops indeed. My ending’s better, btw. 😉 Seriously, though, now that I’m reading, they’re totally different in so many ways that the one or two similarities -vague at best- don’t mean a thing.

    What I can’t get with this novel -I’m almost finished- is why some of the characters do what they do. These things are so out of character. I think O’Neill meant each character to be a symbol of something -New Ireland, Old Ireland, etc.- and let that drive what his characters do -or forces them into things they’d never do- instead of their personalities and backgrounds, etc. I’m scratching my head at some of this.

    I’ll be fair, though. I do not hate it. Quite like a bunch of it, actually. I just don’t see any coherence.

    So far, so good with LPS. He’s finally signed up for Selective Service, he went and got his driver’s license (again; remember, he lost it as soon as he got it and can’t find it), and he’s worked 2 full days. Fingers crossed.

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