... when art changes by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Glimpses from the 2017 Eureka International Certificate Program, Siracusa, Italy.

Most artists, of course, as less keenly interested in ambiguity of identity and purpose than I am. Open-endedness, to me, is democratic and challenges the mind. To others, it is simply waffling and irresponsible. It depends on what kind of art one is talking about. And on what segment of the public. When art as a practice is intentionally blurred with the multitude of other identities and actives we like to call life, it becomes subject to all the problems, conditions, and limitations of those activities, as well as their unique freedoms… The means by which we measure success and failure in such fleeting art must obviously shift from the aesthetics of the self-contained painting or sculpture, regardless of its symbolic reference to the world outside of it, to the ethics and practicalities of those social domains it crosses into.
— Allan Kaprow

Allan Kaprow wrote the above in an essay titled, Success and Failure When Art Changes. In the essay, which was published in the mid-90s,  he was thinking back on an experimental art/education collaboration from 25 years earlier. I have always admired the ambiguity in Allan’s art and been entertained by his ability to articulate that ambiguity with paradoxical precision in his writing. Lately I have been thinking more and more about it in the context of how 1) I can expose new publics to art and 2) how, through non-art collaborations I can take art into other branches of knowledge for the purposes of new interdisciplinary forms for which no name currently exists. Related to this, obviously, is the question of evaluation; how does one measure success in these new forms? Recently, I had the opportunity to answer that question for myself, at least as it related to one collaboration that has been recurring for the past six years. 

In 2011, Anna van Suchtelen and I were invited to be observers at the Eureka Institute for Translational Medicine. Eureka's course is an intensive residency that brings together 30 post-doctoral "students" (they are highly successful scientists in their own right) with nearly as many elite faculty members to engage a remarkable curriculum designed to prepare the emerging practitioners for the obvious and latent challenges they will face attempting to improve health and fight disease. It was expected that Anna and I would produce an artwork that somehow engaged the themes and dynamics of the course. For our efforts we produced the video, When to Throw a Painting to a Drowning Man. Instead of considering art and science as binary opposites, our video pointed to the commonalities of innovation and uncertainty in the practices of art and science. When the video was complete, we screened it to the Eureka community. It was successful by film screening standards; it stoked dialog, and in general, the audience seemed more cheerful when they left than when they arrived. But the video did little to suggest that art could be useful (in an integrative manner) to other branches of knowledge. 

Perhaps because our video was a bit didactic, two years later we were invited to participate as members of the faculty. We translated our video into a 3-hour workshop. The workshop blended lecture and discussion with a heavy dose of improvised performance (and subsequent reflection on what just happened). The result was far more useful to Eureka’s program (as evidenced by student evaluations and anecdotal experiences that have been related throughout the years). Anna and I were still commissioned to produce an edition of art objects, but the objects took on the characteristic of a memory device which pointed back to the dynamic workshop. So was the workshop art? I’d say so, but I also don’t care much about labels provided the work produced the desired results. 

With each new year it seemed as if we were integrated slightly more into the Eureka program. This year’s course (2017) was particularly memorable. Eureka had brought in an energetic social impact coordinator and few outstanding alumni as junior faculty members. Their presence added a sense of urgency to the curriculum. Throughout the course, students developed  group projects on regionally sensitive healthcare issues. A common goal was a patient-centered, preventative approach that would improve medical research and healthcare delivery. I was delighted to observe this aspect of the course, in part, because of the dominant role team-building and creative problem solving played in the development and execution of each group’s project. The final presentations were astonishing in the way students used performance to narrate a healthcare problem and solution, and create an impact that was both cognitively and emotionally resonant. (Unaccredited) BFA degrees for everyone! 

Archiving Olfactory Experiences by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Views from two archival editions of Sillage.

Images 1 - 3 from Sillage: Walters Archive, artist’s multiple (edition of 2), 11 1-dram vials of artist-made fragrance, 29-page booklet in archival box, 8” x 12” x 5”, 2017.

Images 4 - 7 from Sillage: SMMoA Archive, artist’s multiple (edition of 3), 12 2-dram vials of artist-made fragrance, 39-page booklet in archival box, 5.5” x 12” x 3.25”, 2014.

I just put together an artist multiple in the form of an archive for the most recent iteration of my project, Sillage. I kept one for myself and shipped the other one off to the museum. It is this occasion that has me thinking about artists’ archives. 

It’s not unusual for me to go through my archives and be really impressed with a project that I’ve done in the past. Suddenly I feel like I’m doing a studio visit with an emerging artist and realize he is doing better work than me. In a short span of time I go from being engaged, to feeling jealous, to (after realizing it’s my own work) feeling somewhat prideful. But that doesn’t last long because I then feel ashamed that I didn’t remember much of this in the first place. Of course I recognize the project by name, but it takes more than a name to trigger meaningful recollections about the work — what it did, and what it might do now. That’s a big reason why I archive my work. 

But I wonder, what criteria does one use to establish the success of an archive? For me, my archives personify memory in an idiosyncratic way that allows me to both experience the work anew and consider the many devices archival materials can use to engage one’s memory and imagination. My criteria obviously privilege the open nature of the original work and the impossibility to adequately record the multitude of experiences and modes of participation that shaped the work’s creation.  

Since this type of work (artists’ archives) cross over into other fields — namely archival and library science — I concede there are far more disciplined uses for the archive, each with its own criteria for success. I’m sure these folks would have a more rigorous take than I on the question, Can you put the “open work” in a box? Conventional wisdom suggests that archiving time- and situation-based artwork is problematic. To what extent can images, video, and critical reviews adequately convey the experiences of those who witnessed such works? And to speak specifically to the domain in which my work is often considered, what about olfactory art? How does one archive the scent-based project, much less the experiences (perceptions, social relations, conversations, etc.) that emerged between participants or patrons? The meaning of the scents are beholden to the context in which the project was played out. (For example, in the case of Sillage, the context was the museum as cultural site and cinematic backdrop around which participants, acting as walking perfume blotters, engaged in conversations about the scents of their city. So the Sillage archive contains the scents designed for the project, a narrative about the design process, as well as photographic and statistical support material.) Olfactory art is often just volatile molecules awaiting evaporation at the right place and time. That gives added dimension to the concept of the “open work!” 

It’s stating the obvious, but the open work is inherently resistant to closure. And the olfactory open work more so. To archive a smell is to preserve its material form. Yet, to smell something is to witness the odorant’s (or smellable molecules’) evaporation. There is no digitizing of the olfactory archive. At least not as far as I know. Of course gas chromatography and mass spectrometry can be used to reverse engineer a scent. But it’s a stretch to think that one can simply “whip up” an equivalent batch of said scent from a GC-MS analysis. Furthermore, it’s not like this sort of digitization democratizes the archive in a way that is equivalent to scanning archival images and texts in order to make them accessible to a public via the Internet. I’m a pragmatist not a futurist, so I could care less if this technology exists after I am dead. What I am interested in is the lack of archival evidence of the many canonical (and so-called visual) artists who have worked with scent over the past century. Even if other aspects of their work has been preserved, the olfactory dimension likely has not. That’s why I am for personal, eccentric archives. That, and the fact that I have a really bad memory for what I have already done. 

A critical consideration of scent culture? Anyone? by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

My sightline, obscured by my furrowed brow and crooked nose.

My sightline, obscured by my furrowed brow and crooked nose.

I was happy to see my artwork mentioned in this Guardian article, ‘The missing sense’: why our technology addiction makes us crave smells. Given the seeming explosion of interest in all things olfactory, it stands to reason that we ought to reflect on the factors that contribute to what is arguably an olfactory zeitgeist.  

Thomas McMullan’s article covers a lot of ground; he cites a number of topics, any of which could be the subject of its own article: the lack of odor primaries; artisanal versus massed produced scents; the natural/synthetic debate, etc. Eventually he gets to scent branding - the tactical use of the precognitive potential of scent to identify brands and seduce consumers. 

While it is no wonder why marketers would be interested in this, it is peculiar that academics and public intellectuals are not better equipped to offer the general public critical tools to negotiate this ethically ambiguous sensorial landscape. While we are beginning to see a developing literature on the subject, I wonder why there aren’t more “olfactory studies” departments on university campuses? In particular, where are those programs ("centers of excellence," to use the euphemism of the day) that are truly interdisciplinary in their aim to integrate scientific, humanistic and artistic scholarship and creative activity in a way that the Scent Culture Institute is beginning to do at the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland? If I were to take a stab at an answer, it would have something to do with academics - naively, I hope - maintaining the old Enlightenment bias against the chemical senses. Such a bias reinforces a hierarchy of the senses in which smell favors even worse than taste or touch. 

It’s often said that professors have bodies in order to carry their heads from one place to the next. And yet the nose is right there on the head, a prominent appendage, stuck beneath the eyes. So prominent is it, in fact, that it obscures our line of sight, although our brains to a good job of not making an issue out of it. I kinda wish that would change.

My dog Lola has a show at Airlock Gallery by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

On this project my role has been relegated to studio assistant/PR manager. But I am still very proud of my dog, Lola. Here are some pics from the reception followed by a portfolio of images from her show, in case you missed it. Thanks to the humans and dogs who made it out!


Mike Whiting

An Art Exhibition by Lola Goeltzenleuchter
September 17 – October 8, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 17, 2 – 5 PM
Gallery Location: 1788 La Costa Meadows Dr. San Marcos, CA 92078


Airlock Gallery is pleased to announce the first solo exhibition by San Diego-based artist, Lola Goeltzenleuchter. 

Born in 2006 in a rural community just outside of Portland, Oregon, Lola was the only member of her litter to survive. She was adopted by artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter and his wife Amy, with whom she lived in Seattle, Washington. The family relocated to San Diego, California in 2009, which prompted a profound change in Lola’s artistic sensibility. She began to see the world differently, honing a distinctive approach to process-based geometric abstraction. The resulting artwork is an existential meditation on sustenance and form in contemporary life.

In keeping with the working methods of many historic and contemporary geometric abstractionists, Lola subscribes to the self imposed restriction of innovating within rigid formal constraints: a square composition frames a circular bowl-like shape, inside of which a dynamic manipulation of form varies from one work to the next.  

Lola distinguishes herself from her peers through her rigid adherence of documenting her process. Working throughout the day in a studio partially illuminated by natural light, Lola will finish a work and call for its documentation immediately. Using only existing light, a resulting shift in tonality in the pictures creates varied contrasts in mood. Meaning is created by the interplay of tonality and form. This exhibition marks the end of a series of work begun in 2014. 



ODOPHONICS: A performance for scent and chamber ensemble by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Big thanks to Éva-Marie Lind and Anya McCoy for sharing insights on Piesse, Nick Lesley for videography, and Amanda Cachia and the SDAI crew for commissioning the work!

“Scents, like sounds, appear to influence the olfactory nerve in certain degrees. There is, as it were, an octave of colors like an octave in music; certain odors coincide, like the keys of an instrument. Such as almond, vanilla and orange blossom blend together, each producing different degrees of a nearly similar expression”
- G.W. Septimus Piesse, The Art of Perfumery and Methods of Obtaining the Odors of Plants, 1858

Program Notes
Septimus Piesse, a 19th century French perfumer, introduced a vocabulary to talk about smells that made use of musical metaphors. Words such as ‘notes’ (individual smells), ‘chords’ (combinations of notes), ‘harmony,’ and ‘progression’ are still used today in fragrance industries. In 1858 Piesse created an ‘Odophone,’ a literal scale of smells corresponding to different pitches in Western musical notation. By his own logic, scent chords could be formed. Piesse’s logic somewhat corresponded to the scientific understanding of smell in his day, which posited that smell, like sound, was perceived by frequency and vibration. That logic has since been debunked, rendering Piesse’s Odophone little more than a historical anachronism. That is, unless one is dubious of the scientific evidence that supports this conviction. Or, unless one finds value in mining anachronisms as a way to move culture forward.

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? 

Sean Francis Conway, conductor
Brian Goeltzenleuchter, scents
Kate Hatmaker, violin
Travis Maril, viola
Alex Greenbaum, cello
Jory Herman, double bass

Brian Goeltzenleuchter is an artist whose multi-sensory projects consider the ‘use-value’ of art in contemporary society. He earned his MFA in 2001 at University of California San Diego. From 2002 - 2008 he was Associate Professor of Art and Director of the MFA Program at Central Washington University. He has held residencies at the Institute for Art and Olfaction, Los Angeles, the Banff Centre, Canada, and Centrum Beeldende Kunst, The Netherlands.  He is currently a Faculty Fellow in the Weber Honors College at San Diego State University. 

Sean Francis Conway is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in San Diego.  He earned his BA in jazz composition from Berklee College of Music in 2007.  Conway is the founder of the marching sound collective BOMBSHELL BOOM BOOM (!) and has performed with many notable groups such as The Santa Clara Vanguard, Gamelan Galak Tika, The Mobius Artists Group, Rasa Rasa (Tzadik), and No Know Sound Band.

For the past 9 years Art of Élan has been pioneering unique chamber music events and bringing the excitement of classical music to diverse audiences. Created by violinist Kate Hatmaker and flutist Demarre McGill, Art of Élan is continually expanding the scope of classical music in San Diego through innovative, one-hour programming in unique performance venues. Its partnerships with Malashock Dance, the San Diego Symphony, The San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, The Glashaus in Barrio Logan, and A Reason To Survive (ARTS) in National City have led to multiple commissions, world premieres, exciting cross-disciplinary productions and enthusiastic, capacity audiences. By drawing inspiration from the word ‘élan,’ which represents momentum, vigor and spirit, Art of Élan continues to engage and energize audiences in new ways.

Distille at Abbaye de Noirlac by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

I designed the scents for this multi-room installation. If you happen to be in Paris over the next couple of months please check it out. The process of designing for someone else’s work is somewhat new to me; I often collaborate but rarely is my work subordinate to another artist’s ideas. But Sandra’s project was so well researched that I felt comfortable filling the olfactory niche that she needed filled. (Check out the exhibition brochure for the project!) The process offered me time to research one of my favorite times/places in history - early modern France through the lens of Gustave Flaubert’s novel, Madame Bovary. Sandra’s installation reimagined four scenes from the novel, three of which needed an olfactory component, which was described in the novel. 

Here are the three passages from which I designed the scents.

In researching this, I tried to stay true to the scents that would have been available during this time. I considered the ingredients and formulas used in hygiene and grooming products with which Flaubert would have been familiar. 

Once I created each scentscape, I encapsulated them in a gel polymer. This way, as the gel evaporates scent molecules are released into the air without a high tech distribution system. Sandra can discretely place them where she wanted in the exhibition. The museum's preparators can simply swap out new gels when the old ones evaporate. 

Left: Gel polymer after three weeks Right: Gel polymer after one day

Left: Gel polymer after three weeks

Right: Gel polymer after one day

Sweet Gongs Vibrating at SDAI by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

A glimpse of my contribution to Sweet Gongs Vibrating. This photo should tell you very little, which is the point.

A glimpse of my contribution to Sweet Gongs Vibrating. This photo should tell you very little, which is the point.

There is so much I like about what this show promises. First off, I like that I'm in it. But even if I weren't, I'd be stoked on the idea that an exhibition of this scale is getting institutional support in San Diego, a town that has a fairly conservative contemporary art scene. A lot credit goes to Ginger Shulick Porcella and what she is doing at SDAI. The way the museum reinvents itself from exhibition to exhibition reminds me of some of the kunsthalles in Europe that use their space as a platform for experimentation. Part of her success is in her ability to recruit new and interesting curators through the museum's Curator-in-Residence program. Sweet Gongs Vibrating is one such outcome of this program. Amanda Cachia has curated this exhibition in a way that levels the sensory playing field in the so-called 'visual arts.' This is the kind of multi-sensory exhibition that will propose new ways to experience the world.

From the Sweet Gongs press release: Imagine learning new information about a body, a material or a place through the sweet taste of ice-cream, or the gong of a sculpture, or the vibration in a wall. Through direct, embodied visitor contact, Sweet Gongs Vibrating aspires to activate the sensorial qualities of objects in order to illustrate alternative narratives regarding access, place and space.

My contribution to the show will be a piece titled, Let's call it grass (spoiler alert), which is a collaboration with Dutch writer Anna van Suchtelen. It uses the durational element of smells to create a narrative that is both smelled and read over time.

I will also be performing with Sean Francis Conway on May 14. The piece is called Odophonics and is a performance for scent and chamber musicians. More on this later.

Be sure to check out the full Sweet Gongs Vibrating press release here.

Thunder in Our Hearts at Noysky Projects, LA. by Brian Goeltzenleuchter



I can't say no to a show that takes its title from a Kate Bush song. I've got this drawing in a show that Ginger Shulick Porcella curated at Noysky Projects in Los Angeles. Come to the opening  6 PM – 9 PM on Saturday, January 30th. The show runs through February 28.

Noysky Projects, 6727 7⁄8 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

VOSD Interview by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Dave Ghilarducci of Lucca Design Works getting down and dirty with the new scent transmitting devices.

Dave Ghilarducci of Lucca Design Works getting down and dirty with the new scent transmitting devices.

I invited Kinsee Morlan over for a studio visit in advance of the Olfactory Memoirs performance. She showed up and whipped out a mic and an audio recorder. Interviews normally don't bother me, but at that moment I was wrapping up the design of 28 scents while working with Dave on this monstrous device that transmitted the scents to a seated audience. I was astonished that despite how deeply immersed I was in this project, I was having trouble describing it verbally. I I could literally feel my mind creep into verbal mode. Thankfully, Kinsee's questions made the transition relatively smooth. Check out the entire Voice of San Diego interview here: 

Preview Performance of Olfactory Memoirs + A Playlist of Smells interview by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

We are one week away from the first full performance of Olfactory Memoirs. Less than a week, actually. This piece will feature six writings by four writers, each text is scored by a scentscape. This is one of those pictures-don't-do-it-justice artworks, so I will simply post an invitation. Admission is free, but the both shows are sold out. Contact me if you want to be on the wait list. Odds are a few people will drop out this week.

My solenoid hurts and my arduino is swolen, or Why I couldn't do this project without Dave by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

When it comes to assessing intelligence, I am much more comfortable claiming membership with the group that asks, "How are you intelligent?" than I am with the group that asks, "How intelligent are you?" Working across disciplines as an artist and teaching at colleges and universities since my early twenties has introduced me to many brilliant people who possess intelligences that manifest in demonstrably different ways. Some people are masterful with language. Some people are good with numbers. Some people possess the spatial or kinesthetic awareness of an architect or a dancer. Some people possess a profound empathy for others' experience. (These people's intelligence astounds me the most.) All of this is to say that when I begin creating a new artwork, there is a point in the process at which I must reconcile what I know (or could possibly hope to know) with what must be known in order to complete the project. In many cases, the next step requires me to find people with complementary knowledge bases and convince them to work with me. 

Dave Ghilarducci is a great example of someone who is brilliant in ways I could only hope to be adequate. While I was goofing off with the jesters at UCSD Dave was boning up under the instruction of Nobel Laureates at the University of Chicago. He is an engineer with the spatial awareness of a sculptor. I was at his electronics lab this week and noticed that even his trash was organized. 

My trash

My trash

Dave's trash

Dave's trash

The takeaway here is that Dave has worked with me on a number of projects that involve transmitting scent into interior spaces. Smells don't respect spatial boundaries, which makes them difficult to control. Dave is currently working with me to create an electronic system capable of delivering scents to coincide with spoken word narratives. It's akin to a DJ cutting from one record to another in real time. That is, if the sound from the first record continued to echo even after you cut away from it. 

Our solution involve Arduinos, solenoids and a bunch of other stuff to pump low doses of dry, scented air into the noses of a captive audience. We will be testing this out on November 28th and 29th at San Diego Writers, INK space at Liberty Station. These will be the first preview events for Olfactory Memoirs, my long term transmedia project exploring narrative and olfaction. Seating will be limited, so email me soon if you would like to join us. 

KCET article by Robert Pincus by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Bob Pincus is the gentleman's art critic. He is observant, discrete and witty, one of the undeniable treasures in San Diego art and culture. I wish our studio visit could have simply been transcribed verbatim. It certainly would have been a lot easier on him. Read on to see him weave in and out of criminology, philosophy, satire, and a variety of other things that I have been thinking about.


ÇaFleureBon Profiles In American Perfumery by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

You've gotta love interviews that ask you about your childhood. It is interesting, though, to be recognized by members of the perfume industry, because there is a definite overlap between their current interests and what I do in my art practice. It's sort of like this:  

What I find perverse is that, in spite of working for years in so-called "visual" art, what I am recognized for, both in popular and critical contexts, is the olfactory stuff. This is perfectly fine with me. Except that there is a conceptual and critical legacy out of which my work in the senses has emerged. (To the extent I worry) I worry that art people think the olfactory stuff is an altogether new direction for me, or possibly a turning away from my work in institutional critique and contextual practices. Of course it's not, but the bulk of what gets printed about my work focuses exclusively on smells, and rarely does it connect it back to the conceptual art/institutional critique legacies to which I am indebted. It's sort of like this: 

Again, not a issue. In fact, if I had a self esteem problem I would just assume that my other work sucks. But my sense is that smell is captivating to a lot of people right now, and when that wears off we will get 1) more nuanced writing about the discipline, and 2) more writing that seamlessly integrates scent-based art into the larger contemporary art project.