Odor Patris Tu
Catherine Bell investigates the smell of loss
My exhibition, Odor Patris Tu, Latin for “My Father’s Smell”, consists of a series of sculptural works made from ephemeral materials, and photographs that magnify the intricately carved and cast forms. The artworks extend on my investigation of mortality and impermanence and further develop my interest in how smell can be used as a potent artistic material.
The sculptures are impregnated with the signature smell of a deceased loved one and represent personal talismans, that speak to the power of smell to evoke memories and arouse individual and shared histories. As a highly nuanced sense, with an enormous capacity to trigger human emotions, it is surprising that smell features so rarely in contemporary art. In this exhibition, smell is used to solicit the viewer into the role of active witness by provoking a visceral response or corporeal reaction.
The characteristics of scent, its intimacy, its inability to be contained, is a device I have harnessed in recent site-responsive installations “Splashback” (2016) in Treatment: Six Public Art Works at Werribee Western Treatment Plant, and “Talc Fall” (2015) in Finitude, Plimsoll Gallery, University of Tasmania. “Talc Fall” included talcum powder performances and talcum powder sculptures to stand in for the absent body and explored the relationship between smell and memory.
Privileging the sense of smell, the biographical carvings and precariously moulded talc forms, in Odor Patris Tu, build an intimate portrait of the subject behind the aroma. The pain-staking process of working with fragile, unpredictable and impermanent substances amplifies rituals of mourning and melancholia associated with their construction and eventual destruction.