When my mentor emailed me asking whether I'd like to go to a seminar last Thursday about art in biology, presented by the olfactory artist Raewyn Turner, my mind subconsciously skipped over the words "olfactory artist" and I contemplated not going - in that hour, I could get some homework done! I assumed that it was going to be some presentation about those diagrams you find in biology textbooks. I decided to go, anyway, because I figured that it'd be cool to meet a textbook artist while eating cheese and crackers. Maybe she'd give me some tips on drawing complicated proteins.
Raewyn Turner, however, is not a textbook artist. She doesn't use paper or pixels as her primary medium. She's an olfactory artist - what the heck is an olfactory artist?! - and I never knew such a field existed. I suppose this justifies my ridiculously high college tuition; instead of going to Rutgers, I'm here, with opportunities to meet people (and I'm close to a Trader Joe's. And supermarkets, in general). My mind was blown by this concept of art based on smells. I don't actually grasp a lot of what she did, but she did bring some nifty devices that I got to see close up.
One of these was this... balloony thing, that had motion sensors. When you walked up to it, the balloon swelled up, and a box within the balloon emitted a smell. If you stood motionless, the balloony thing would shrivel up and lie dormant. It reminded me of an eager dog (perhaps a mechanical one).
Another device detected smells and output sounds that corresponded to the smell. For example, when ethyl alcohol (?) was placed at its sensor, it emitted a certain sound, and when cinnamon was placed at the sensor, a bright, tinkering bell sound was produced. A low lull/clock chiming sound represented hydrocarbons. The smells themselves were in little beads in mini jars. I really want some of those beads (air freshener?... it's just really cool to have supersaturated smells), and they're apparently used in the perfume industry because they are concentrated and absorb the specific smell and only emit the smell slowly.
Other art of hers that I didn't really comprehend/didn't see a point in included the baking of a lot of cakes and sticking many colors of icing on them and the tasting of some 50 samples of wine, paired with certain words from poems. Ironically, these are the food-related projects...
I think that as it is such a novel concept to me, olfactory art hasn't found its niche in my brain yet.