DRAWINGS SCENTS

DRAWING SCENTS

2002, interactive installation (scented piramids + macs + projector), Lethaby Gallery, Central St.Martins, College of Art & Design, London (here with fav participant: Paola Cologni)

DRAWING SCENTS: some observations (2003)

In Drawing  Scents, I investigate the association between smells with memory, and place to interrogate on presence and absence. I would like stimulate the viewers’ imagination, as they will select a colour in relation to the smells I have chosen and presented. The installation contains all elements I was hoping to be able to include in a work: narrative, interaction aiming to final creative output, this to change the contexts conditions.

It is designed in the following way: a number of sources of smell are placed along the wall. Next to each one a touch screen with a number of colours (sounds).  On the wall in front of it a screen shows the update of the generated outcome depending on the audience feedback.

The work functions through stages in relation to the participant’s behaviour: fruition (perception through smelling); participant’s feedback through association with colour among a given selection; the participant’s choice is connected to a series of parameters to implement a graphic program; Those parameters take shape on the digital screen behind the perceiver in the form of a colour: The colour fills the space and will influence the next participant’s reaction.

The audience response was the averaged after the exhibition, the RGB information of the selected colours over the period of the exhibition[1] was: 140, 116, 118.

The installation will be presented to an audience in a different country where the different reactions to the same olfactory stimuli will be translated into a different colour. In this sense the reaction is never explained, its illustration becomes part of the work itself in the form of a printed monocrome photographic piece.

Visual/olfactory memory and memorable emotions

Our sense of smell is something that many of us take for granted, but odours do indeed have an effect on our daily lives. Imagine what it would be like walking into a movie theatre or a bakery and not being able to smell each of their distinct odours. Or what if you couldn’t smell the flowers in the spring or the smell of a brand new book. The sense of smell adds a richness to our lives that we aren’t always conscious of, but as soon as it’s taken away it dramatically changes our quality of life.

In primitive times smell protected our primitive ancestors from predators and helped them find food, but today we still rely on it more than we think: smell affects many aspects of life such as attraction, memories, and emotions. The purpose of this text is to mention some of the implications involved in the delivery of the piece Drawing Scents; the piece poses questions regarding the sense of smell, particularly the relationship between olfactory memory and visual memory, without though aiming to find scientific answers.

It’s enough to think how easily we perceive a smell and suddenly remember an event or person forgotten for years, to understand the connection between olfaction and memory. This section will describe odour memory, which refers to both memory for odours and memories that are evoked by odours.

It is first important to understand the physiology of olfaction. Rachel Herz Ph.D., a psychologist at Brown University, illustrates that the primary olfactory cortex, in which higher-level processing of olfactory information takes place, forms a direct link with the amygdala and the hippocampus. Only two synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala, which is involved in experiencing emotion and also in emotional memory[2]. In addition, only three synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the hippocampus, which is implicated in memory, especially working memory and short-term memory. Olfaction is the sensory modality that is physically closest to the limbic system, of which the hippocampus and amygdala are a part, and which is responsible for emotions and memory. This may be why odour-evoked memories are unusually emotionally potent. It may be significant that olfactory neurons are unmyelinated, making olfaction the slowest of all the senses. It not only takes the brain longer to perceive olfactory stimuli, the sensation of an odour also persists for greater lengths of time than do sensations of vision or audition. The fact that olfactory receptors are the only sensory receptors directly exposed to the environment may also help explain the relationship between olfaction and memory.

Certainly more research has been conducted in areas of visual and auditory information whereas many traits of odour memory have yet to be defined. For example, storage and decay processes, characteristics of memory processes, are not yet understood with respect to olfaction. Neurological imaging techniques could further refine our understanding of the way odour memory works.

Recent research has supported the existence of olfactory short-term memory[3]. Although there is no evidence for olfactory primacy[4], White and Treisman’s experiment provides evidence for recency in olfaction. The researchers explained this finding by mentioning that primacy is accounted for by rehearsal, “a cognitive process that may not be available for odours”. White and Treisman posited that olfactory memory occurs because individuals assign verbal meanings to olfactory stimuli. They also claim that just as olfactory sense is a crucial sense for other animals, “there is no a priori reason why humans alone should lack an olfactory memory”.

Rabin & Cain in 1984 found that odour memory was improved by familiarity and identifiability. Olfaction has often been implicated in learning processes, specifically in research done with animals.[5] Research has also been done on odour memory in humans. It has been shown that patients of Korsakoff’s syndrome, who suffer severe memory impairment, show less of an impairment for odour memory than for other kinds of memory. This suggests that there is in fact a mechanism for odour memory separate from other kinds of memory.

Much research has found connections between the structures of the olfactory system and the structures involved in memory in the modern human species. There have also been associations made between the two systems through their evolutionary histories. According to Rachel Herz, “the limbic system literally grew out of the olfactory bulb”. This notion that the limbic system evolved from the olfactory system could be the key to any smell-memory connection. A link has also been made between the presence of stem cells in both the olfactory and memory systems.[6]

The main reason why I became interested in olfaction it’s relation with and effect on emotions. This is discussed by Rachel Herz, who refers to the event of odour-triggered memories as instances of the “Proust phenomenon.”[7] This common term was adopted from Marcel Proust’s novel Swann’s Way in which the author famously describes this kind of experience. The narrator is overwhelmed by the odour of a Madeleine biscuit dipped in linden-blossom tea. This scents causes a flood of memories concerning a long-forgotten childhood event. In Proustian memories the cue is a smell. One of the most distinctive properties of odour-evoked memories is the powerful emotion that often accompanies them. Olfaction and emotion are intimately connected by the structures of the limbic system. In fact the limbic system is believed to have evolved originally as a system for the sophisticated analysis of olfactory input.[8]The most ancient part of the brain comprises the olfactory and limbic areas, the rhinencephalon. The olfactory and limbic structures evolved from the, literally, “smell-brain.” In Herz view the ability to experience and express emotion grew directly out of the brain’s ability to process smell.

Herz has demonstrated the primacy of feeling in her scientific experiments. Along with psychologist John Schooler of the University of Pittsburgh, Herz claims to have produced the first unequivocal demonstration that naturalistic memories evoked by odours are more emotional than memories evoked by other cues. The study compared odours and visual cues for five items as cues for autobiographical memories. The results supported that Proustian memories are distinctly emotionally charged. The emotionality of odour-evoked memories may arise from the unique neural connections that exist between the olfactory areas of the central nervous system and the amygdala-hippocampal complex of the limbic system responsible for emotion.[9]

These direct connections may distinguish odour memories cues from other sensory memory cues because no other sensory system has such intense contact with the neural substrates of emotion and memory. Neuroimaging studies have also shed come insight on the significant neural pathways involved in the Proust phenomenon. Neurological studies have shown that odour assessments are processed primarily in the right hemisphere of the brain, which is also the part of the brain for the most part associated with emotion. Neuroimaging studies have also revealed that encoding and retrieval of memories occur in different parts of the brain. Memories are stored in the left dorsal prefrontal cortex but they are retrieved in the right prefrontal cortex, the hemisphere of the brain most heavily associated with odour identification and emotion.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence that olfaction, memory and emotion are intimately linked is illustrated by the loss of the sense of smell. Anosmia, a Greek term meaning “lack of smell,” can often lead to anxiety and depression.

John Harrison illustrates June Downey of the University of Wyoming studies on synaesthic relationship colour-smell/taste . She states that cases of coloured taste have been less well described in the literature, though attributes this not to the frequency with which this variant occurs, but to the failure of those with it to notice that tastes (or smells) evoke colours. Downey suggests that this is because objects that smell and/or taste are usually bound to “an object that’ naturally has” a colour which masks the synaesthesic colour. This may or may not be true, but it is our experience that those with, say, coloured smell are very aware of the colour of the odiferous object, as well as the colour percept elicited by the smell.[10]

Harrison also suggests that ‘smell function has, for the last couple of decades, been of interest to a number of researchers who investigate Parkinson’s desease, which features olfactory loss amongst its sequelae. A consequence of this interest has been the development and sale of the smell identification test (SIT), originally by Richard Doty and others at the University of Pennsylvania…’[11] The test conducted by a synaethete patient showed an accurate result of shape perception in relation to smells such as: chery: wave shape, mint: flat, but not filling like bubblegum, banana: round shape, lilac: shaped like a drill bit…

Harrison makes a useful distinction to devise typologies of synaethetic experiences: synaesthesia induced could be sensational and imaginal. Essentially the issue is whether simply tasting (or smelling) a substance that elicits colour is both necessary and sufficient to elicit the synaesthesic experience. ‘Would the synaesthete automatically ‘see’ the colour on being stimulated with the appropriate odour on each occasion that the odour was presented?’[12] If the answer is yes then the perception can be described as sensational, using Downey’s parlance. However, if it is necessary for the synaesthete to conjour up the colour in an effortful fashion, then the perception might best be described as imaginal.

Harrison suggests that a definition of terms is helpful in discussing these issues and so he proposes two different terms to be used to refer to these different scenarios. The synaesthesia that are believed to be automatic, constant, and irrepressible the term ‘correspondence’ can be used to describe the relationship between the primary sensation and the synaesthesic percept. In contrast, when referring to synaesthesia that are learnt, and therefore not automatic, constant, and irrepressible, the term ‘association’ will be used.

(Elena Cologni, 2003)

[1] here some of the results out of the four adopted macs produced in real time and then collected: gmac2avge — rgb(171, 102, 112), mac3avge rgb(115, 123, 144), gmac4avge — rgb(165, 128, 112), gmac5avge — rgb(98, 115, 105) part of the text files produced: mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 0 ) mac3,rgb( 255, 0, 170 ) mac4,rgb( 85, 0, 255 )mac5,rgb( 0, 0, 170 )mac2,rgb( 255, 170, 85 )mac3,rgb( 255, 85, 170 )mac4,rgb( 170, 85, 0 )mac5,rgb( 0, 85, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 170, 170 )mac3,rgb( 170, 255, 255 )mac4,rgb( 255, 255, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 255, 170 )mac3,rgb( 85, 0, 170 )mac4,rgb( 0, 85, 0 )mac5,rgb( 85, 255, 170 )mac2,rgb( 170, 255, 170 )mac3,rgb( 0, 85, 255 )mac4,rgb( 255, 85, 0 )mac5,rgb( 170, 85, 85 )mac3,rgb( 170, 255, 255 )mac4,rgb( 255, 170, 85 )mac5,rgb( 170, 170, 255 )mac2,rgb( 85, 0, 255 )mac3,rgb( 170, 170, 255 )mac4,rgb( 255, 170, 85 )mac3,rgb( 255, 255, 85 )mac4,rgb( 170, 85, 255 )mac5,rgb( 85, 85, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 170, 255 )mac2,rgb( 0, 0, 85 )mac3,rgb( 170, 255, 0 )mac4,rgb( 255, 0, 85 )mac4,rgb( 170, 0, 85 )mac3,rgb( 85, 255, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 255, 170 )mac5,rgb( 0, 85, 0 )mac3,rgb( 170, 255, 85 )mac4,rgb( 255, 170, 170 )mac3,rgb( 85, 170, 0 )mac5,rgb( 85, 85, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 85 )mac3,rgb( 0, 0, 0 )mac4,rgb( 255, 170, 0 )mac2,rgb( 85, 0, 255 )mac2,rgb( 170, 170, 255 )mac2,rgb( 255, 85, 255 )mac2,rgb( 85, 85, 85 )mac2,rgb( 0, 255, 85 )mac2,rgb( 85, 85, 170 )mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )mac2,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )mac2,rgb( 85, 170, 170 )mac3,rgb( 85, 85, 0 )mac3,rgb( 0, 0, 255 )mac2,rgb( 0, 255, 170 )mac4,rgb( 85, 0, 255 )mac4,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )mac4,rgb( 170, 170, 0 )mac4,rgb( 170, 170, 0 )mac3,rgb( 85, 0, 255 )mac2,rgb( 170, 0, 85 )mac2,rgb( 170, 0, 0 )mac3,rgb( 0, 0, 255 )mac4,rgb( 0, 170, 0 )mac4,rgb( 0, 170, 0 )mac3,rgb( 0, 0, 255 )mac3,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )Your name,rgb( 85, 0, 255 )www,rgb( 255, 255, 255 )q,rgb( 85, 0, 170 )bbb,rgb( 255, 0, 0 )Y,rgb( 170, 85, 0 )Y,rgb( 85, 85, 170 )Y,rgb( 170, 170, 0 )u,rgb( 85, 0, 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[2] Herz R.S. & Engen T.1996. Odour memory: review and analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 3: n3,pp.300-313.

[3] White T. & Treisman M. 1997. A comparison of the encoding of content and order in olfactory memory and in memory for visually presented verbal materials. British Journal of Psychology 88: n3 459-469.

[4] the phenomenon in which stimuli presented at the beginning of a trial is remembered best

[5] For example, in a study by Frances Darling and Burton Slotnick  1994, rats quickly learned to avoid licking at a drinking tube containing an odourant and quinine hydrochloride. Learning occurred relatively quickly: within only one or two exposures to this particular combination of odour and tastant. This study suggests, then, that the brain may be equipped with a mechanism for olfactory memory. Slotnick (1993) provides further evidence for olfactory learning in rats. He shows that rats have actually achieved errorless performance in olfactory learning tasks. In 1991 W. Thomas Tomlinson (1991. Restriction of early exploratory forays effects specific aspects of spatial processing in weanling hamsters. Developmental Psychobiology 24: n4 277-298.) showed that normally reared hamsters demonstrated spatial memory for the location of odour cues in an allocentric task. The fact that animals often employ the olfactory sense to locate stored food provides further support for the existence of an olfactory memory of sorts. Stephen B. Vander Wall (1991)[5] showed that yellow pine chipmunks found caches (stored food) using their olfactory sense. However, in the study, olfaction only helped chipmunks localise moist seeds and not dry seeds. Olfaction therefore plays a part in an integrated system for recovering caches and finding hidden food. Another way in which animals use olfaction is identifying their young. Gary F. Mc Cracken did a study of Mexican free-tailed bats which examined nursing behavior of mother-pup pairs[5]. He found that mother bats returned to areas where they had nursed previously, and hypothesized that olfactory cues were used to remember these places.

[6] . Neurons associated with the nasal epithelium and the those in the hypocammpus, a prominent memory structure, are both capable of regrowth due to the presence of stem cells in these systems.

[7] Herz, Rachel S. “Scents of Time,” The Sciences, v40 i4 (July 2000): 34.

[8] Gray, Peter, Psychology, Third Edition, New York City: Worth Publishers, 1999.

[9] Anatomy of the Olfactory System.

[11] Harrison, J., p. 170.

[12] Harrison, J., p,170

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

supported by:

Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of The Arts, London
Università dell’Immagine, Milan,
Dragoco New York and Paris,
Oikos Milan