Brief-description: Must-smell exhibition scientifically fills gallery space with the natural scent of human exertion.
Event url: www.burchfieldpenney.org
About: What does labor smell like? The Burchfield Penney tackles that sweaty, steamy question by scientifically creating it in an exhibition by Paul Vanouse, award-winning University at Buffalo professor of art and director of Coalesce: Center for Biological Art. The scent of human exertion in stressful conditions is produced onsite.
People are not involved in making the smell. It will be formed by bacteria procreating in three industrial fermenters in the middle of the Center’s project space. These 80-gallon vessels, standing human height, will be cradled by temperature regulating units and motorized mixers connected to gas, nutrient and waste canisters by hoses. Researcher Solon Morse, Coalesce lab manager, is scientific collaborator on the project.
“Each fermenter incubates a unique species of human skin bacteria responsible for the primary scent of sweat: Staphylococcus epidermis, Coryne and Propionibacterium,” explains Vanouse, recipient of the Award of Distinction in Hybrid Art at the prestigious 2017 Prix Ars Electronica, a cyberarts global festival and competition. “As these bacteria digest simple sugars and fats, they create the distinct smells associated with human exertion, stress and anxiety. Their scents will combine in the central chamber in which a sweatshop icon, the white t-shirt, is infused as scents disseminate. This odor is expected to grow stronger throughout the exhibition.”
Labor reflects industrial society’s shift from human and machine labor, to increasingly pervasive forms of microbial manufacturing. “Today, microbes produce a wide range of products, including enzymes, foods, beverages, feedstocks, fuels and pharmaceuticals. They literally live to work,” said Vanouse “These new industrial processes point to a deepening exploitation of life and living processes: the design, engineering, management and commodification of life itself. In Labor, the microorganisms ironically produce the scent of sweat, not as a vulgar bi-product of production, like in factories of the 19th and 20th c