Vancouver January 2014

Over Christmas and New Year, I went into paper writing overdrive, made my head hurt, gained some neurons… and knowledge. The result was a presentation version of my paper 'Smell The City a Participatory Narrative: Or 8 Lumps of Lard Down the Pub'.  The paper outlines the philosophies and intentions which informed a participatory artwork that I made in October 2013, Smell The City: An Olfactory Exploration of City Sewer Fat.

I went to Vancouver in January to present the paper at The 8th International Design Principles and Practices conference. My favourite bit of the experience were the presentations of / meeting the 'smell folks': (built environment smell expert extraordinaire) Victoria Henshaw, (smell map maker) Kate McClean, (sensory researcher) Melanie Mc Bride, (experiential researcher) Jason Nolan and (smell maker) Mike McGinley.

My favourite new bit of smell information came from these guys. According to Mike (animal) skunk smell can create an overpowering sensation of demotivation and 'bummed-outness'.   The military have investigated it as a 'chemical repellant' but according to Melanie the smell is abhorrent to most but 10% find it pleasant… as it doesn't repel everyone it was deemed not so useful as a chemical weapon. It is not clear whether 'the military' have investigated the 'bummed-outness' effect… I am now so curious about the smell , that I have ordered a vial of a synthetic 'skunk' smell…

I spent my first day in Vancouver walking around the centre. All a bit too familiar: a TopShop, a H&M etc… As Vancouver is set out like a grid I decided to walk from the beginning of Granville to the end. The first part of the walk cut the through the city centre… large hotels, fashion shops… as I walked further through the centre the buildings became more Art Deco faded elegance… looked like they were being squatted… groups of men drinking alcohol out of paper bags…begging… hanging out in street corners…a bit intimidating… couldn't take photos… stopped walking when I got to the bridge to Granville Island.

 I then walked back through Granville back to the beginning of my walk. Ate a A&W 'Uncle' burger… where a homeless man tried to blag a free burger…a big fuss and then a policeman stepped in a bought his burger for him… a sense of community seems ingrained in Canadian culture… lots of public interest adverts for health and education initiatives aims at 'newcomers' (immigrants)… but a paradox with the amount of homeless begging and alcoholism evident on the streets.

I got a day travel ticket and travelled the city by bus… trying to find out how the majority of people live. Community spirit was immediately apparent on the buses… people didn't need reminding to move when older people or people with children/ buggies needed the bus space… people just gave up their seats and moved automatically… no fuss.

 The suburbs of Vancouver consisted mainly of row upon row of detached wooden houses… a strip of land surrounding the perimeter of each house… I didn't see any 'proper' gardens… except one which had (I think) corn growing its front garden… the houses are close together… and the rows dense… when looking down streets you could see that the pattern was repeated into the distance… so close together and individual at the same time...

Vancouver Art Gallery is sited next to the conference venue in central Vancouver. A well laid out gallery, well worth a visit. Of particular interest was an exhibition by artist Kimsooja.

I didn't get an image of it but I spent a long time with her work 'A Needle Woman'. It is an installation of films of Kimsooja, back to the camera, standing still in the shopping streets of eight cities. The films play simultaneously for about 10 minutes. It is completely fascinating to see the reactions of passers by. Mainly indifference in London and Tokyo. Total curiosity in Delhi and Nairobi. The reactions say so much about the places and their cultures.


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