Saturday, July 11, 2009

Olfactive Oakmoss Exhibition at Cabinet in Brooklyn

The hyper regulation of oakmoss in fine fragrance makes this event/exhibition too good to miss.

Date: July 18—August 8, 2009
NY Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday­, 12-6 pm, & by appt.

Opening Reception: Saturday, July 18, 6-8 ­pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, July 18, 5-6 pm

Cabinet is pleased to announce the opening of Recent addition to the permanent collection, an invisible modification of the Cabinet event space by Nadia Wagner that invokes change, decay, and prestige via the use of a signature of the scent of oakmoss.

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) is a natural lichen which has a very lovely, smooth, and slightly musty odor. Highly sought after as an ingredient in perfumes in the nineteenth century, the use of natural oakmoss declined after 1898, when a single part of its odor profile, Evernyl, was isolated and synthesized for the first time and became an ingredient in a range of famous 1920s perfumes and, via the vagaries of cold war fashion, 1970s men's colognes.

Oakmoss itself is no longer easily available in commercial quantities. It grows chiefly in old stands of oaks, moldering slowly in very still groves. It has been close to unobtainable since 1986, as many of the best remaining natural sources are deep in the Ukraine, around a small town called Chernobyl.

Evernyl, for its part, remains a staple of the flavor and fragrance industry. Also known as Mousse Metra, Veramoss, or more rigorously, methyl 2,4-dihydroxy-3,6-dimethylbenzoate, the scent of Evernyl was described in Stephan Jellinek's classic technical text Perfumery: Practice and Principles with a single, oddly untechnical word: "dusty". He elsewhere classifies it as erogenic, in accordance with his unusual application of Freudian theory to the sense of smell.

For her installation at Cabinet, Nadia Wagner will be bombing the building with Evernyl, a scent that is much stranger and more persistent than the landlord has been led to expect.

In her artist talk preceding the opening, Wagner will be presenting and explaining a library of ninety scents, some attractive—such as Cis-3-Hexanol, the smell of fresh cut grass—and some less attractive, such as Skatole, the smell of feces, and Costus, the smell of dirty hair.

Cabinet kindly requests that patrons refrain from wearing any perfume or fragrance to this exhibition.

About the Artist: Nadia Wagner is researching the classification of odors, the relationship between odor and space, and its applications to architecture and design. Her article, “Notes on Scent,” on the problem the sense of smell poses to description, appeared in issue 32 of Cabinet Magazine. She teaches at the College of Fine Arts, the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and has also exhibited her work in Beijing, Edinburgh, and Berlin.


Invisible Architecture: Experiencing Places through the Sense of Smell by Anna Barbara and Anthony Perliss is a must-read for anyone interested in the relationship between scent and architecture.

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa is also highly recommended as it emphasizes how visual dominance in our culture can prevent the appreciation of spaces in architecture.

Oakmoss is an ingredient in fine fragrance that defines the chypre category of fine fragrance. Fragrance bloggers and their bretheren are of the opinion that hyper regulation of oakmoss is to has led to the destruction of the chypre category. Many classic fragrance formulas have already been turned into shadows of themselves, lacking character and substance. Glass Petal Smoke riffed on this subject in a post titled "I Smell therefore I Blog".