Sillage: Los Angeles
Sillage: Los Angeles (Santa Monica Museum of Art Patron Demographic Profile), olfactory artwork launched at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2014
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 begins as a collection of eleven fragrances that represent the major regions of Los Angeles. Designed by Brian Goeltzenleuchter, the scents are based on a survey he created in which Los Angeles 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 Santa Monica Museum of Art (now the ICALA), 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.
Downtown: Hot asphalt penetrates traffic exhaust
East/Northeast Los Angeles: Mexican food mixes with orange blossom-infused air
Harbor Area: A breeze of salty ocean air mixed with heavy machinery
Hollywood: An old lady wearing cheap perfume, a kid sticky with cotton candy, and a hipster redolent of sweet tobacco
Los Feliz & Silverlake: Dry air infused with night blooming jasmine drifts across dry concrete
Northwest of Downtown: Musty pond water fades into warm air
San Fernando Valley: Rosemary gives way to bubblegum melting on the sidewalk
South Los Angeles: Metallic heat and hydraulic fluid pulse over old asphalt
West Los Angeles: Wet lawn gives ways to dry air, which gives way to the clean sweat of a trophy wife
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.