Material Scent

The visual arts continue to be dominated by optical understanding, despite increasing awareness that the optical remains a small component of the sensory input used to understand an artwork or artefact. In artistic practices that focus on materiality, such as textiles, attention to further ways of understanding often acknowledges the role of touch. While kinesic knowledge is increasingly recognised in craft discourse, emphasis tends to dwell on the role of learning to make. This chapter proposes the need to further expand our kinesic understanding of both historical and contemporary textiles beyond the optical and tactile to also include scent. The presence of scent in historical examples such as batik and muslin, as well as contemporary practices such as Ernesto Neto and Doris Salcedo, not only exemplify the presence of scent, but also confirm the considerable challenges in recording what is arguably the most subjective and ephemeral of the senses.


forthcoming chapter in Kinesic Intelligence in the Humanities edited by Guillemette Bolens (Routledge)

  • Image credit

    Ernesto Neto, 2015. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.