Vwvoffka gallery exhibit plays on the experience of scents and senses.
Of the 272 small, sterile-looking, numbered bottles that had been neatly lined up on shelves two weeks ago for the opening night of “Olfactics,” only lonely looking #52 is still around for me to smell. Picking up the white, prescription-sized bottle, shaking its contents around a bit and taking a long whiff through the wire mesh opening in the cap, I smell … nothing. It’s weirdly vindicating when I walk across the room to a grid of 272 numbered pieces of paper, and find only one word scribbled by the exhibit’s attendees on the piece of paper marked 52: “NOTHING.” Vincent Finazzo, who with Michael Chadwick and Andy Molholt came up with the exhibit, shrugs and tells me that it was “earth.”
“Olfactics” is an interactive art piece that opened at Vwvoffka gallery (say: VWOOF-kah, in a semi-Soviet accent. It’s fun) this past First Friday, with a repeat of the event coming up July 24. It tries to examine the experience of smell separated from the rest of the senses. The numbered bottles contained samples of concentrated smells, both pleasant and not; the wall across the room holds attendees’ written-in responses to the question “What does this number smell like?”
Looking at the wall of results, written by the 200-odd people that Finazzo and Vwvoffka co-founder Masha Badinter estimate attended the First Friday opening on Frankford Avenue this month, it’s clear which smells were easy to ID. There’s a lot of agreement about garlic and bananas; ditto for poop. A few squares say “NOTHING,” a couple say “COCAINE,” several more are blank. The four or five squares with various responses on the Italian-herb spectrum also include a guess of “PIZZA.” One says “MY MOM.” It’s interesting as art both in the primary experience of interacting with the scents, in the secondary records of the uniqueness of people’s reactions to the same smell and in the communal experience (a la Oliver Herring’s awesome Task Parties that FLUXSpace has been hosting for the last few years) of being both a viewer and a creator of art.
The set of samples on cotton swabs ran the gamut from bananas to rosemary to cat litter to garbage juice. “Uh, the bottom of the garbage can,” laughs Finazzo when asked where one finds garbage juice. It was one of the first scents they acquired, sampled at 3 a.m. on opening day right there in the back of the gallery.
“Olfactics” was designed to be ephemeral, but the weather sped the process up. It opened on the last day of lovely weather before the heat wave, and after two days the 272 smells had decayed and combined to create a stench so overwhelming they had to throw most of the bottles away. “It was this really specific smell. I still remember it. It was awful,” says Badinter, who had trouble describing it beyond that, as if it were some ineffable horror out of an H.P. Lovecraft story. Finazzo agrees that the smell was terrible, but was strangely drawn to the idea of a smell that, while terrible, would probably never exist in exactly the same way again.
After the next iteration of “Olfactics” at the end of the month, the artists plan to print and release a book of results from both days of their art experiment, from what was in the bottles vs. how they were identified to more unexpected data, like which bottles drew the most flies as the heat wave ground on and which were stolen during the event. The book will be available at Vwvoffka; Badinter says it’ll probably also be at Little Berlin and Extra Extra, two of the handful of galleries that have been springing up in Kensington over the last couple years, making the Philly art scene a much more interesting, if occasionally pungent, place. ■
“ Olfactics .”
Sat., July 24
2037 Frankford Ave.