Talking Smell

Talking Smell

14 November, 2018

Led by:

  • Saskia Wilson-Brown – producer and curator for visual art and film; the Institute for Art and Olfaction, experimentation and education in perfumery.
  • Emma Crebolder – African language linguist.
  • Laura Speed – experimental psychologist; interaction between language and perception and the contextual factors that affect this interaction; relationship between language and olfactory perception
Intended learning outcomes (more on programme level)

Part of Marres’ Workshops ‘Training the Senses’.

Learning objectives (course specific)

  • Identifying and expressing smells
  • reading about scent
  • analyzing the relationship between smells and words
Objective statement (course description)

Smells form part of our knowing, but they are elusive, often disappearing before they can be pinned down with speech. Scents can bring us strong memories of places and events, yet we find it hard to identify even quite strong smells, including bleach, rosemary and lavender. Research shows that people growing up in some non-western cultures have a more developed vocabulary for scents. And that Europeans find it easier to identify scents, the more they talk about these scents. What is it that makes scents so significant yet difficult to grasp? In this session, we will be identifying and expressing smells with director of the Institute for Art and Olfaction Saskia Wilson-Brown, reading about scent with poet Emma Crebolder and analyzing the relationship between smells and words with neuro-scientist Laura Speed.

Type of course :

extracurricular course

Target group :

general audience

Teaching method:




  • Smell paper samples are dipped into vials and then passed around to participants. They are asked to reflect on the smell and how it makes them feel, or if it triggers some memories in them.
  • A Dutch poem about smells is read out loud.
  • Making an attempt at synaesthesia – smell a piece of a smell sample and draw what comes to mind, draw the symbol of what this scent triggers visually.
Assessment of learning : N/A
Effect (witness account, evaluation of the course)
Additional biblio sources (available at Marres)

  • Presentation; different fragrance wheel; scent and memory;


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