Call for Proposals: Olfactory Art and the Political in an Age of Resistance

If you have either written about olfactory art and olfaction, and/or you are an artist/activist working with scents, please find below a Call For Proposals for an edited publication on Olfactory Art And The Political In An Age Of Resistance. Do not hesitate to share this call with some of your colleagues who may be interested in it.

We think the current state of Olfactory Studies provides an opportune moment for examining how olfactory art resists power and engages with the political. We are therefore putting forth a call for papers to those working as artists, activists, historians, and theorists in the field who might consider contributing to a collection of essays addressing the politics of scent in art, art history, visual culture, activism and social practice, post-colonial studies, gender studies, performance studies, and other disciplines. Our hope is to uncover and examine the various dispositions of olfactory artworks and the role that odor takes in contemporary and historical practices.

Scholarship in the field has established the many ways the modernist aesthetic regime continues to privilege the optical over other bodily experiences of the sensorium, considering what is seen to be the basis of knowledge and medium specificity. As performance studies theoretician Rebecca Schneider has noted, within Western culture artifacts must remain permanently visible in order to be considered valuable. Art history follows suit in its reinforcing of these optical hegemonies.

However, in contemporary practice, we must invoke a wider understanding of systems of representation, so that we may engage more critically with, for example, the use of perfume in James Lee Byars’ performances, the scent of menstrual blood in the work of Judy Chicago, or body odor in the installations of Sissel Tolaas. In these works, along with many others that are overtly or residually scented, attention must shift to critical modalities that may augment or challenge the primacy of the visual. Thus, olfactory art has emerged as a mode of inquiry. With the aim of compiling a book of essays addressing such issues, we are interested in papers that question the limits of visual experience, engage the political and olfaction, investigate the blurring between activism and art, consider olfactory disruptions within artistic and political processes, and examine the role of scent in art and the political, contemporary and historical.

Here are some of the questions we are posing (but our CFP is not limited to this set; we remain open):

What is at stake in supplanting and/or supplementing art objects with fragrance?

What is the role of interference with social demands for deodorized bourgeois spaces, or as Pierre Bourdieu puts it, an expectation of “no smell?”

Can or should a parallel between the repressions of olfaction in western culture (as it has been already established elsewhere in the literature) be drawn with other repressions of gender, the feminine body, the racialized other, the global south, refugees and the immigrant body?

Within a political framework, how do olfactory works operate as forms of resistance?

How do activists deploy olfactory tactics to achieve their goals?

How can olfactory art productively wrestle with issues in a Beuysian fashion, where the artist becomes an agent of the political, rather than a mere observer or critic of political phenomena?

Kant indicates that olfaction affords no opportunity for contemplation in the way that visual experience does, so would it be possible to consider flipping what Kant sees as the negative potential of the sense of smell into a specific aesthetic call to move beyond the contemplative? We would like to hope that perhaps there is something about the immediacy of the sense of smell that might be accessed to prompt action. What would it look like for the artist to become such an agent and does olfactory experience open up a model and a method towards this possibility?

Our goal is to begin gathering interest and essays, with an eye to submitting a proposal to publishers by October 15, 2018. Please email us both to indicate your interest, including a 300-word abstract of your proposed essay and your CV. We can be reached at and

Gwenn-Ael Lynn and Debra Riley Parr (please when responding, email the both of us).

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