Sillage: Baltimore (The Walters Art Museum Patron Demographic Profile), olfactory artwork launched at the The Walters Art Museum, 2016
1. (French) wake, or path left behind a ship on the surface of the water
2. the sense of a person being present in the room after she has left
Sillage: Walters begins as a collection of ten fragrances that represent the major regions of Baltimore (based on preexisting police precinct divisions). Designed by Brian Goeltzenleuchter, the scents are based on a survey he created in which Baltimore residents were asked to describe the smells they associate with various neighborhoods. Each fragrance can be thought of as a scent-scape: a fragrance in which a distinctive background smell describing the sky and ground creates a foundation, on top of which episodic smells reveal themselves over time. At the Walters Art Museum, patrons approach the Sillage booth and identify the region in which they live to the Museum’s staff, who log the data and spray a corresponding scent on the patron’s wrist. Over the course of the day, a collective scent of the Museum’s demographic fills the space. Upon closing, the artist will use data from the event to formulate a bespoke perfume that will be donated to the Museum.
Northwest: Horses treading leaves underfoot while city air enters the country
North: Sweet blossoms falling over steaming street vents and neatly trimmed grass
Northeast: Woody breezes chase roasted coffee through open space
West: Decaying air of demolished building washes down sidewalk
Central: Harbor air and rat musk wade through traffic
East: Dry alley air pushes skunk weed and pit beef over well traveled concrete
Southwest: Fresh trail air blows empty cigarillo packs over curing asphalt
South: Harbor breezes sweep caramelized diesel past new construction
Southeast: Sweet air fills with freshly baked bread and the feeling that it’s going to rain
Other: Hotel soap and suntan lotion on a tourist
I think of Sillage as an olfactory public artwork. This project is a challenge to conventional notions of what makes art “public.” In public art, the idea of collective memory is often considered when designing monuments and memorials. Throughout the world, the built environment is full of objects that claim to embody a specific public’s memory. However, as opposed to embodying collective memory, many such objects have been criticized for displacing it. Through their permanent materials, masculine nature, and rigid meaning, conventional monuments have been challenged for being impotent, symbolic markers unable to adapt to a public that is constantly in flux. With the olfactory public artwork, this is inverted. “Counter- monuments” like Sillage are highly ephemeral, physically unimposing, and capable of generating discourse chiefly because they embody memory. As a form of socially engaged art, the ephemeral nature of smell calls for public dialogue now, because the smell itself will soon be a memory.