Smell The City - A Participatory Narrative

For those of you who came along to see 'Smell The City' at the Albany it was really lovely to meet you. Some of you wanted to know the answers to 7 & 8...

The quick answer is...
7 = Caroline Street
8 = The train station end of West Gate Street

The smell of Leicester Square, London. Image Diana Oliveira

The long answer is...
In the summer of 2013 I became fascinated by the news reports of 'fatbergs' found in the sewers underneath Kingston in London. This coincided with my being accepted for an artist residency with the South London Underground Department of Geopotation and Effluence. Through working with them, I discovered that sewer fat from different areas of London retain distinctive smells. S.L.U.D.G.E. is currently under going a pilot project with Thames Water to turn 'waste effluent' into a biofuel. The fat is separated from the 'waste' which is how the folk at S.L.U.D.G.E.  discovered the fascinating world of sewer fat smells. Amazingly they gave me some samples of the fats. As one of their team used to work in Cardiff he was able to get some samples from the city as well.

I am interested in the philosophical notion of 'sense of place' or how people emotionally attach to locations. Olfactory stimulation is well documented as an effective way to trigger memory. A possible strategy for enabling people to feel comfortable within a location, might be to trigger positive memories through olfactory stimulants (smells). This is why the idea of sewer fat smells from specific locations particularly appeals to me.

The Made in Roath curators asked me to do a show, The Museum of Mystery, the venue was to be the Albany pub. This was an opportunity to share the 'sewer fat samples' I had collected in fun way. So the 'Smell the City' exhibition came to be.

But that is not the end of it...

... because 'Smell The City' has been a participatory story telling project. If you came along to see the exhibition, some of what you saw and smelt was true and but most was made up by me. Some of it was made up by other visitors and repeated by me or the pub staff. Collectively we made a story about a pub hosting an exhibition of sewer fat. If I met you in the pub I stuck rigidly to the story. Aside from that I tried not to talk about the project. If you feel duped I am sorry, I actually feel a bit guilty. If you felt delight at having a new experience and a new story to tell, then great glad you came along...

So what was fact/ what was fiction?

What was the sewer fat?
Lard from a supermarket.

How were the smells made?
I buy the smells from a company that supplies museums and large retailers. So in part true as they were made in a lab.

Does the South London Underground Department of Geopotation and Effluence exist?
No I made it up.

Geoff Lane landlord of the Albany pub. Image Diana Oliveira

Who was in on it?
Myself, the Made in Roath curators Nia, Helen and Gail, Geoff the pub landlord and Dee who did the photography.

Are there really fat bergs in London?
Yes... it was all over the media in August...and yes they are apparently lard-like.

Is sewer fat really being used as bio-fuel?
Yes looks like Thames Water are really trying that out.

Does Mayfair really smell perfumey?
Apparently yes... when I find the article I read it in I will post it online

Thank you to the ever excellent Made in Roath and to everyone that came along and participated... without you it would have been just 8 lumps of lard in a pub!