I don’t want to flatter people, I want to excite them. I want to challenge them a little, or a lot if they can take it. Perhaps i’ll practice the art of challenging people just as much as they can take, so that they dip deeper each time. I think being flattered is a theme of our times, and that it is poisonous to people’s ability to think for themselves, think more holistically or think of themselves as part of communities.
I find lots of similarities between composing a perfume and painting. Creating accords is analogous with mixing raw colours to make the perfect colour to convey what you are imagining or what from life you want to recreate. Paints, like perfume materials have different textures, opacities, weights.. Putting them together in a painting is about balancing instinct and control, with each colour/texture suggesting or demanding what needs to be done around it, what needs to happen next…And its all about your responses and memories and dreams... Yes, I would go so far as to say that perfume is the main medium I am working in at the moment.
Here in Scotland there is an embryonic interest in perfuming by independents, or smaller brands. There are a couple of people making perfume here I believe, and some critics and bloggers, but its yet to really take off. This interests me too, the combination of being a country in political flux and struggling to express itself culturally and the potential for something like perfumery. I’m fascinated by the idea of expressing the nature around me that I love, the feelings it evokes, and landscapes, and also the emotive and philosophical responses to that land and natural world.
Beginnings of a new painting….
“We say that someone of serious intelligence and determination is bound to achieve great things in the world, that surely he won’t remain obscure, whatever his circumstances. But the habit of prudence in matters requiring careful thought inevitably precludes quick, deft resolution; prudence retards progress and delays execution. Because of this, men of great, hard-working genius are often, almost always really, prisoners of their own irresoluteness - they are indecisive, shy, tentative, uncertain, fragile, inept at following through. Quite unlike those who rule the world, where decisiveness, not prudence, gets more done more quickly - that’s why the world is always left at the mercy of mediocrities.”
from Zibaldone di penssieri
I have been wearing Onda Voile de Parfum for two days after hearing the sad news that Vero Kern has died at the age of 78. I love Onda, a deep, dark and mysterious vetiver, spicy, woody and honeyed perfume. I also have it in eau de parfum which has a wonderful passionfruit top note which makes it exciting and a bit loud. I’ve worn the latter during open studios or other times when I want to say I’m here and I’m just as you find me, no compromise! I find Vero Kern very inspiring, an lady full of life and vigour and sexiness. I’m inspired by her story that she only started as a perfumer in her 60s. I believe she was also a friend of Andy Tauer, another independent perfumer I admire, and there is a wonderful short film of the two of them on one of their regular walks in the local park together, smelling lilac blossoms. With Vero Kern’s passing I renew my intention to explore the vivid and so-alive world of smells, and materials, and perfumes, and I renew my intention to just start being damned uncompromising. A fire in my belly for social issues, planetary action, love for nature, and for independents, people making things they love and pour passion into, making where they live and work places full of life and sensory joy. I go into 2019 taking no prisoners. Thank you Vero!
into the strenuous briefness
handorgans and April
i charge laughing.
Into the hair-thin tints
of yellow dawn,
into the women-coloured twilight
into the vermilion departure
(Do you think?)the
is probably made
of roses & hello:
(of solongs and,ashes)
“A time has come for new ways of telling true stories beyond civilisational first principles. Without ‘Man’ and ‘Nature’, all creatures can come back to life, and men and women can express themselves without the strictures of a parochially imagined rationality, No longer relegated to the whispers in the night, such stories might be simultaneously true and fabulous. How else can we account for the fact that anything is alive in the mess we have made?
Following a mushroom, this book offers such true stories. Unlike most scholarly books, what follows is a riot of short chapters. I wanted them to be like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after a rain: an over-the-top bounty; a temptation to explore; an always too many. The gesture to the so-much-more out there. They tangle with and interrupt each other-mimicking the patchiness of the world I am trying to describe.”
from ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins.’
“The reason we don’t feel the worst possible physical pain is because it either knocks us senseless or kills us. We don’t feel the worst sorrow while its at its worst; it stuns us, confuses or overwhelms us, makes us unrecognisable and unknowable to ourselves, estranges us from our feelings and the object of our feeling; we’re immobilised, our inner (and, so to speak, outer) life ceases to stir. Thus we don’t feel the worst sorrows, don’t feel them in their entirety, when they first befall, we know them, one by one, as we advance through time and space. And not just peak pain, but every peak passion, every sensation that, even if it’s not the greatest, is yet so extraordinary and (in whatever way), great, that our spirit can’t contain it all at once. Supreme joy would be just the same.”
March 4, 1821
from ‘Zibaldone di pensieri’, translated by W. S. Di Piero
I know this problem intimately, he describes trauma, where the body and mind is immobilised in order to protect its ability to continue in the now and towards the future. If you were able to experience it right now you would go insane, so close to the truth of existence would you be. Afterwards you feel the urgency of this message, that it is possible to live in a vivid now, but that it stops time. This is both beautiful and tragic.
Leopardi is also referring to art in this passage. He knows that its only afterwards that an artist can make sense of it, because extreme experience isn’t transferable as it is, its only when its conceptualised that it can become understandable. From the specific comes the universal. If you aim too soon for the universal it is banal.
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
- And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,
With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.
from blog post by Bois de Jasmin on the Perfumative Zurich
“The miracle is that the universe created a part of itself to study the rest of it, that this part, in studying itself, finds the rest of the universe in its own natural inner realities.”
from Centre of the Cyclone: Looking into Inner Space
When blood vessels in the retina are occluded and blood flow is prevented, the empty vessels can be seen on specialised images as ethereal empty tubes, which ophthalmologists refer to as ghost vessels. When these vessels have no blood flow they can no longer inform the retina and sight is lost. Retina damage disturbs the person’s ability to use sight as a way of gaining information about the world around them.
The term reverberated with possible meaning for me. A vessel holds something, but an empty vessel has an absence, a loss of purpose, like the retinas if they no longer help the person to see the world. Similarly, after death, the ghost has lost its vessel, the body, and looks back into the world of the living, with longing and despair. Even amongst the living, some are lost on this far shore, viewing themselves as if from outwith their own bodies. They feel a sense of ‘not being themselves’, or not inhabiting their own vessel.
The Ghost can’t understand why they are outside looking in. Ghosts are both there and not there, sometimes visible to the living, but diaphanous. Ghosts linger on the edges of perception, on the edge of our sight. Death is the ultimate absence. The person has gone and those they leave behind can remember and can still see the deceased in their mind’s eye. This lingering is a form of ghostliness, and it serves as a reminder of what is lost. Being a ghost is a living death, two opposite concepts which cannot hold water. I wanted to create vessels which couldn’t contain anything, which had lost their purpose.
Making Ghost Vessels
I collected twigs, and honoured them with black, white and red paint. Twigs are a tree’s vessels along which its sap flows. When it breaks off the tree it dies and becomes an empty vessel. I bound the twigs together roughly and instinctively with wire and string, creating vases, or vessels, which are incapable of holding liquid. As I painted them and bound them together, they began to take on an uncanny sense of life, a twisted energy, evoking movements such as struggling, wrestling and dancing. Surprisingly, from the exploration of purposelessness new forms of energetic life seemed to emerge!
I took photographs of the twigs in a variety of environments, and of the ghost vessels in ways which revealed the unexpected inner life I had noticed. I explored the twigs’ shapes by drawing and printing them, going back and forth between presence and absence. The images were reminiscent of the empty tube shapes of the opthalmologists’ images. Lastly I overlaid the ghost vessels I had drawn with scraps of paper and printed them again, creating blank spaces, evoking sight loss.
I have a beautiful new space to work in. I like the experience of leaving my home and going somewhere else to work for the day, or evening. Home is home, where I have a garden and a bed in the eves of the house, where I can lie listening to sea birds and night birds. I think when I’m at home, but I find it easier to have a separate space In which to put things together afterwards. A space for my mind to see what I’ve done. Especially at the moment, while its so muddled and slow, and my memory isn’t great. Visually, in order to see, I need clarity and light with nothing around cluttering up my periphery. Having this new space has already been very clarifying while I prepared for the open studios.
Since last year's CFOS I have been honing some of the ideas I was playing with then, and have used this year's open studios as an opportunity to gather my work together in a physical space, a remarkably effective way of seeing connections, thematics, some of them new but many of them a realisation of what was already there, connections which I had already made and had found their way into the artworks, even though I hadn't consciously put them there, bringing great pleasure and a sense of discovery. This practice is what I should be doing all the time, and luckily I have moved into a new studio space which will allow me to do this. Its too late to change the venue for CFOS this year as all the information and brochures and so on were already produced before I got the studio. So, my work will be at Maker, 2a High Street, Inverkeithing on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd September 10am-6pm both days.
Ps, images of the new studio to follow soon!
"We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as [humans] is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks [we] take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.
Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. “Tragedy,” [D.H.] Lawrence said, “ought to be a great kick at misery.” This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick."
That there, that's not me
I go where I please
I walk through walls
I float down the Liffey
I'm not here
This isn't happening
I'm not here
I'm not here
In a little while
I'll be gone
The moment's already passed
Yeah its gone
And I'm not here
This isn't happening
I'm not here
I'm not here
And blown speakers
I'm not here
This isn't happening
I'm not here
I'm not here, here
Radiohead - from album Kid A
"This was not depression. This was not workaholism. I have a fairly severe mental illness that makes it hard to do my job - in fact it makes me totally ill suited for my job. I have a form of dissociative disorder that makes the world seem like it's not real, as if things aren't taking place. It's hard to explain but you feel untethered...
The thing for me was to make a real mark in life - to matter, to be here, to exist - and dissociation makes you feel like you don't exist. How do you make your mark if you're not even here? If you're invisible?"
I've had a small selection of my artworks made into prints and greeting cards, which I'm very pleased about. They are for sale at Maker, 2a High Street Inverkeithing and My Cherry Pie, 301 High Street, Kirkcaldy, the prints are £40-£50 and the cards are £2.50. I'd love to stock them in more shops and galleries so do get in touch if this is something you would be interested in.
After one long season of waiting
After one long season of wanting
I am breaking open
My insides are pink and raw
And it hurts me when I move my jaw
But I am taking tiny steps forward
And I feel sure that my wounds will heal
And I will bloom here in my room
With a little water and a little bit of sunlight
And a little bit of tender mercy, tender mercy.
The Mountain Goats - Absolute Lithops Effect
I haven't written about my recent-ish obsession with the sensual and intellectual joys of olfaction. It probably started really with cooking more with my daughter, and the enjoyment that brought, using more ingredients, trying new and interesting recipes, and then the handling, assembling and of course, the act of cooking and eating: touch (kneading bread), smell (cutting and scraping seeds from a vanilla pod) and taste - wonderful revelations! The best part was the enjoyment of being beside my beautiful daughter, and sharing the enjoyment (and sometimes the drama and failures) of it. The only sense which gave me difficulty was of course sight - fiddly wee things to slice, materials the same colour as their background, bubbling pots and ovens I can't see into... With help from my daughter and a serious of carefully placed, sometimes precariously balanced lamps, I managed, though not without periods of grief and rage. We opened a pot of star anise and sniffed delightedly together, and thus was asserted for me, the joy, the bliss, of smelling as a sense that has no association with loss.
I re-read 'The Perfume Lover' by Denyse Beaulieu, a book which I had first read a couple of years ago, which explores the creative process of perfume making with 'nose' Bernard Duchafeur. She lovingly describes the process from inspiration, through development of the 'mods', to a finished scent (Seville a L'Aube), via Denyse's own life story through perfumes, love and desire. It inspired me to begin thinking about my own 'scent story' (perfumes which have been in your life, if you like that sort of thing). My mum had a bottle of Youth Dew by Estee Lauder on her dressing table when I was a little girl, and I was fascinated by this liquid which looked, and smelled, like cola. It was spicy, it was exotic, it seemed to speak of adulthood, that mysterious land from which I was still delightfully excluded but which hovered in the future. She doesn't remember even owning it, but it was my original scent marker. In my teenage years I wore Miss Dior, the ultimate bluestocking scent with naughty undertones, then Fendi by Fendi, a hurriedly adopted 'signature scent' when my best friend Amanda confidently declared hers to be Oscar de la Renta. Fendi was spicy and reminded me of Youth Dew, and is still a great favourite, although it has now been discontinued. I also wore Aromatics Elixir by Clinique, (probably way too much of it, its famous for being very strong) and it began my love of chypres. Then, via Jean Paul Gaultier's first perfume for women in the curvy, basque and stocking-wearing bottle, which confused me with its mis-match between the sexy promise of the bottle and the sickly smell within, and Baby Doll, a gift from a boyfriend, also confusing for its sickly sweetness, but interesting for its initial blast of sulphurous pineapple and blackcurrant. Then as a young woman I bought a bottle of Mitsouko by Guerlain. A classic, a work of art (according to perfume lovers), its wonderful, and has more than a faint whiff of skank. Wearing it for a day is a commitment. Its a day of feeling wrong if you are in a rush, if you don't have time to linger and savour each moment. I think it's a work of art because it asks the philosophical question 'how should one live?'
After thinking about my own perfume history, and in particular those ones which reach back in my memory to myself as a young woman, I began to sniff for Scotland. Sample after sample arrived by post, and I went out on smelling expeditions to the department stores in Edinburgh, even though going to the city alone still filled me with fear of flashbacks and panic attacks, and fear of crowds because of my poor vision, I was sniffing my way through these difficulties. Standing in a department store with my eyes closed, inhaling deeply, this often brings out the fear in sellers of mainstream perfumes, and I felt wonderfully eccentric (read - mad). They couldn't understand why I wanted to smell the classics and not the newest release. I was filling in a catalogue in my brain, and heeded no distractions.
What I discovered is that there is a whole underworld of perfume people, who live for olfactory delight. Like any geekdom, it has its leaders, its articulate writers, its forums. I discovered a group apart from mainstream 'houses' - the niche brands, who still work with large budgets and often have stores of their own, and a whole wonderful seam of perfume makers who work from home, the independants and self-taught perfumers. More on these wonderful people, and those who love their creations, in a separate post.
My husband bought me as a birthday gift a day-course perfume making course in London (I can't find anything similar in Scotland), which led me into the arena of actually making my own perfumes. And with that I discovered an enjoyable hobby, one which (mostly) concerns the sense of smell rather than sight, and it therefor so much more relaxing for me. I wonder whether it has something to do with my visual difficulty with seeing 'wholes' - I see fragments which my brain has to piece together, and this is tiring. I can't see a whole image, my work is in fragments, like peering through the wrong end of a telescope and swivelling it around from place to place. But with smell I can smell 'wholes', there are no gaps in my ability. But here's the thing, you make perfumes by blending lots of ingredients together, and these ingredients have different volatilises in air, ie their molecules dissipate more slowly or quickly, so wearing perfume is essentially an art form with time as an element, more like film or music than visual art. That is, the person experiencing it goes through it in real time. The person composing it moves about within the time/space of it at will. This is very difficult with perfume making - you have to have a reasonable understanding of the different ingredients and their tendencies, how they work with time, but also how they work with each other. There is also an element of control and freedom - an old theme of mine, and one which is built in to the creative process. Building something takes a lot of knowledge of how the materials will work, and a careful plan, but it also (I think) requires periods of 'letting go', moving instinctively, emotionally, in a flow state. The tension between the two keeps me interested in creating things, and informs my whole understanding of being alive.
I find interested parallels, and differences, between making perfume and making visual art. What I also discovered was something very interesting - that is the sense of smell and the funtions of the brain. Several people have commented on that old idea that when one sense is compromised you might have a strengthening of another one. I don't know how true this is, its a bit of a cliche. I think a more in-depth analysis of this is that when one sense is compromised your brain generally would try to gather information about your surroundings in as many ways as possible in order to help you manoeuvre through life. I read a book by a man who had gone completely blind, and I was very interested in his extra sense of things around him, which he could 'feel'- such as a building looming up in front of him. He tells of how he manages very well on his way home from work himself - he has this 'sense' of obstacles, but interestingly when someone else is with him he loses this sense and becomes more dependent on the other person. His sense of his environment has to include them, their proximity, their conversation, and is attention is too dissipated. This makes perfect sense and I think we can all grasp a sense of this - if you have ever stood still somewhere in nature, like a wood, and just let everything around you unfold, and you 'feel' it as well as sense it, don't you?
Someone told me that it is thought that our sense of smell is based in the limbic system of our brain, so I looked into what this means. Firstly, can I just point a fact which is rather strange, given my interest in the concept of liminality, these areas of the brain are called the limbic system because they surround the limit between the cerebral hemisphere and the brainstem - they are on the border or limbus. I think the connection with my own experience lies in what associations olfaction might have with other functions of the brain, but its geography was startling. What I find interesting is that the sense of olfaction is situated in the same areas which support other functions including emotion, behaviour, motivation, long term memories and the formation of memories.
So am I comfortable stimulating my limbic brain because it has been so 'switched on' by all the things which happened to me? Perhaps it is like tonguing a bad tooth, perhaps this voluptuous comfort is the next stage after the voluptuous comfort I used to gain from obsessively reading about terrible events and other people's suffering, or indeed previous to that, going over again and again what happened to me.
Anyway, maybe perfuming is my new art form? Or maybe its part of my healing. Are they even any different?
"Days (...) are not long in shape, that shape of things which have aims: the arrow, the road, the running man. Their shape is round, the shape of things that are eternal and static: the sun, the world, God (...). Civilised people all (...) say that days are long. No, the days are round. We are going towards nothing, precisely because we are going towards everything, and everything is achieved from the moment we have all our senses ready to feel. The days are fruits and our role is to eat them...to make them our spiritual flesh and our soul, to live. Living has no other meaning than this."
from 'Rondeurs des jours', quoted by Jean-Claude Ellena in his book 'Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent'