From 22 April to 25 June, the spaces of Bergamo’s cultural hub will host CORPO ETERNO. The sense of smell as a laboratory of power, between ecological crisis and transhumanism”, a project curated by Elena Giulia Abbiatici and promoted by DASTE Bergamo in collaboration with MO.CA – centre for new cultures on the occasion of Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023. On show are works by Peter de Cupere, Caflo Yrot, Paul Vanouse, Leanne Wijnsma and Where Dogs Run, artists who have opened up critical clarifications and aesthetic short-circuits on environmental violence and the biopolitical control to which our bodies are indirectly subjected through olfactory.
While the sensorial expansion has always been pertinent to the work of art, the project seeks to fill a gap in artistic research and common sensibility by developing a focus on the role that the sense of smell has played and continues to play in the exercise of power and in contemporary artistic design. The project aims to activate a reflection on the possibility of extending our awareness of the atmosphere where we are immersed, by delving into the chemical wars we are subjected to, every day due to the abuse of substances inhaled in the air and commonly accepted as smog, waste, industrial and automobile exhausts. It then goes on to study how smells serve surveillance capitalism, even reestablishing a relationship with body odours long subjected to censorship in modern and colonial times, for racial and classist reasons. Olfactory language has played, and continues to play, a decisive function in the construction of communities and relational spaces: it constitutes, in the affirmation or negation it has undergone, an instrument of constitution and/or discrimination of subjectivities and the collective body.
Lastly, if the sense of smell has always been considered the most spiritual of all senses, a viaticum to foster immortality in bodily transcendence, the increasingly pervasive forms of computerisation prompt us to question the role that algorithms and data applied to the design of the sense of smell play in the tension with eternity, be it biochemical or delegated to data.
THE ETERNAL BODY continues with a public programme on the same themes in Brescia at MO.CA -centre for new cultures (Via Moretto 78, Brescia).
The exhibition opens with works by Peter de Cupere: Smell of War (2015), Smoke Flower (2017) and Organ Flowers (2013). Peter de Cupere’s Smell of War evoke the olfactory component of physical and chemical warfare, bringing attention to the paradox in which we live of tacit acceptance of the chemical pollutants we daily breathe and a distancing, in accordance with the socio-cultural stigma of bad taste, from body odours. The smoke-emitting flower, Smoke Flower, emphasises the paradox of the olfactory environments of our cities, immersed in industrial effluents here rejected by the flower as if taking revenge on human activity. The artist also brings to the exhibition some pastel and charcoal drawings Organ Flowers, refined and sinuous compositions of flourishing organs, to evoke, on the contrary, a rapprochement with the olfactory component of our bodies, affirming the splendid vitality of a natural sensoriality.
From Peter de Cupere’s collection, we exhibit two small works Le parfume de sang by Caflo Yrot (1874 – 1970, UA), a doctor, interpreter and teacher, in his spare time an artist, who was strongly interested in the body and the scents of the human body, in particular the scent of blood, which he considered the most personal of all. For Caflo Yrot, blood was the scent of life. In order to be able to smell blood, he came up with the idea of a perfume pump connected to a needle. By pricking the body and dispersing the blood on the skin, one could smell the scent of one’s own life. A very daring idea for the time, which here, once again, through the smell of blood, rethinks the eternal matrix of life.
The exhibition continues with the multi-sensory installation Labor by Paul Vanouse (2019), American artist and director of the Coalesce Center for Biological Art at the University of Buffalo. Using three bioreactors, each for a type of bacteria – Staphylococcus epidermidis, Corynebacterium xerosis and Propionibacterium avidum – the artist recreates the smell of people exercising under conditions of stress, anxiety and exertion, imagining the smell of sweat as a past odour, vanished due to increasingly computerised activities and nostalgically recreated in the laboratory. While the intention of the work is also to force smells that have been categorised and racialised into the realm of high culture, the opposite of the Western aesthetics of good taste, it also invites us to reflect on the role of microbes and bacteria in the biological processes of our bodies, in our immune, digestive and emotional systems, and on the antibiotic resistance to which antibiotic abuse has led us. The exhibition presents prints of some T-shirts that have undergone the bio-reactive process, portraits of future intimate narratives, and a video documenting the process work.
Lastly, Where Dogs Run Group is an artist collective founded in 2000 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, by four artists: Olga Inozemtseva, Alexey Korzukhin, Vladislav Bulatov and Natalia Grekhova. In Faces of Smell, Where Dogs Run suggest how the sense of smell can become a tool of biometric control in the hands of power. Government surveillance can use body odours and our breath for biometric tracking of citizens, going beyond fingerprints, facial recognition and retina checks etc. In the tubes that are part of the Faces of Smell installation (2012), gas detectors and analysers are placed to collect information about people, their location and their biology at a specific time through their smell and breath. When a person approaches the gas analyser and sniffs the tubes, the tubes sniff in turn. Once the data on the composition of the air is processed, it is compiled and produces a face – a witness to the position, shape and facial features at that particular moment. In short, a person sees a face that conforms to his or her smell, exactly in line with today’s continuous tracking requirements. Surveillance capitalism is also analysed through the design of smell and the related explorations triggered by it. Faces visualise the information captured through our breath and smell. This points out how smell and breath, in their obvious invisibility, may become the preferred terrain of surveillance capitalism, now that the artificial olfactory sensor industry is developing intensively. Digital olfactory sensitivity is increasing and hybrid systems combining biological and electronic sensory capabilities are appearing, although smell is still so complex to measure, decode and reproduce as it
is potentially subject to fallacious and illusory readings.
“The sense of smell as a laboratory of power, between ecological crisis and transhumanism” is part of the project “INTRA – Relazioni Contemporanee” selected and financed by the Bando “Capitale della Cultura 2023” of Fondazione Cariplo, Fondazione della Comunit. Bresciana and Fondazione della Comunit. Bergamasca. Moreover, the project is financed by the Municipality of Bergamo through the ‘Call for contributions to support projects for Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023’.
The event Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023 sees Intesa Sanpaolo and A2A as Main Partner, Brembo as System Partner, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and SACBO as Area Partners. The Ministry of Culture and the Lombardy Region are institutional partners together with Fondazione Cariplo, Fondazione della Comunità Bresciana and Fondazione della Comunità Bergamasca.
Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023 sees the active involvement of Fondazione Cariplo together
with Fondazione della Comunit. Bergamasca and Fondazione della Comunit. Bresciana. The three Foundations, institutional partners of the initiative, have identified 92 projects from the communities of Bergamo and Brescia through a dedicated call for proposals and a joint evaluation committee, supported with a total contribution of Euro 3.5 million. This is a rich programme of initiatives capable of fostering the participation of citizens, with a special focus on the population groups with fewer opportunities for cultural enjoyment and on the inhabitants of the most marginal and geographically distant areas of the territory from the two capital cities. Of Bergamo Brescia Capital of Culture 2023 interests, more than what happens, what remains. This is why the Community Foundations are not ‘sponsors’ of events or projects, but act in alliance with local institutions and the Third Sector to promote – through the method of co-planning – cultural and social growth, wellbeing, sustainable and lasting development for the communities for which they are a solid reference.
(from the press release)
The Eternal Body. The sense of smell as a laboratory of power, between ecological crisis and transhumanism, curated by Elena Giulia Abbiatici, DASTE Bergamo, 22.04 – 25.06.2023
On 29 and 30 April, MO.CA Brescia will host the various appointments of the public programme that, from reflecting on the abuse that our olfactory system receives as a result of environmental pollution, aims to rehabilitate its role in neurological and social processes, through olfactory training courses and forms of sensorial digitalisation capable of enhancing human capacities beyond the individual. Guests include Anna Barbara with Collettivolfattivo, Jas Brooks, Francesca Faruolo, Moon Ribas, Luca Vitone and Tania Gianesin, Giovanna Zucconi. All programme information and bookings can be found here.
The project has won ITALIAN COUNCIL IX (a programme for the promotion of contemporary art promoted by the General Directorate for Contemporary Creativity of the Ministry of Culture).
Images (cover 1): WhereDogsRun, Faces of Smell, installation, 2012 (2) Peter DeCupere,«Lungs Flower», 2013, Pastel, charcoal, colour pencils (3) PeterDeCupere, «Olfabetby» (4) Paul Vanouse, «Labor», Multi-sensory installation (detail), Burchfield Penny Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. 2019, ph: Tullis Johnson (5) Leanne Wijnsme, Froukje Tam, «Smell of Data 01”, 2014 (6) CafloYrot, «Le Parfum de Sang1 (the perfume of blood)», 1899