The publicist for shopping site OpenSky contacted me about Chandler Burr's “Untitled Series” project:
“Chandler Burr, the curator of The Department of Olfactory Art at New York's Museum of Arts and Design, the scent editor for GQ magazine and the former scent critic for the New York Times is creating a project on OpenSky that’s never been done before. He’s bringing scent to life online.”Bringing scent to life online has never been done before? Hello? Is this thing on?
“Readers can purchase the bottle of perfume not knowing the maker but only trusting Chandler's expert detailed descriptions of the scent, allowing you to understand it as a work of art and not for its marketing techniques. There will be only [limited] bottles available in the series each month...and the identity of the scent as well as more about the artist who created it will be revealed to shoppers on the last day of June.”Here's the video:
Now, does this seem like money for old rope? Or an exercise in meta-meta-meta? Burr's taking something that already exists and is rebranding it as his curatorial choice, à la Duchamp's "Fountain". And then selling it. I don't know if it's annoying or brilliant. Or both.
|"Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp|
One might do the same with an unlabeled can of Diet Coke:
"This is a beverage, created by one the world's foremost libation artists. It's not just a drink, it is fuel for the microchip revolution. Drinking this work of art places you in a pocket of well-being, where you feel uplifted, your essential you-ness enhanced. $50, please."
|"Diet Coke" by Coca-Cola|
Commenters under Burr's video and on Now Smell This are a little fuzzy on the concept -- not everyone's embracing the "artwork" approach. They want notes, they want a review, they don't want to pay $50 for a perfume they won't like or worse, already own.
But Chazzy B's not concerned about that -- he's in full "thought experiment" flow, here. I don't think he's particularly advocating the purchase as something you might wear. Instead, it's more of a collector's item that you might have on file when you're in the mood for a whiff of something well-structured with the power to dress you in “background radiation of the most gorgeous kind”, as he says in the video.
However, people are responding more to the mystery and getting into the guessing game aspect, which must be driving CB round the twist. I'm imagining some comedy fist-shaking in the privacy of his bunker: "What part of 'reassessing a toiletry with the artist's eye' do you people not understand?"
This is such a minor thing and yet there's so much to discuss.
At first, I couldn't understand quite what was going on; CB seems almost deliberately unclear in describing the project. But after a third pass it became obvious that, yes, he's simply dumping a commercially available perfume into a bottle without a label and mailing it to people. Weird.
Because he's ambiguous about the project's intentions, people don't seem to understand that guessing the perfume is the exact thing you shouldn't do. (That's the whole point of sending it without identification, to encourage people to experience perfume without all the traps that knowledge creates.) So I understand his frustration and yet if you know anything about the perfume community, you know this is inevitable. People like showing off. If you read only Basenotes, you'd think that was the whole point.
But CB wants to be Henry Higgins to our Eliza Doolittle. This isn't something we're all experiencing together, this is something CB is showing us, teaching us, and it seems he'd be better off with a bunch of perfume novices. But why would a perfume novice pay $50 a month to get a unlabeled bottle of...something?
|"The diffusion and structure is perfect...and it's scrummy with cocoa!"|
This seems like the online version of his scent dinners, where he'd pass out perfumes, pontificate and then get feedback from people. CB is an odd duck in that he seems curious to know what people think, while simultaneously wanting to direct them in their thinking. I guess I'm more fascinated by this than I first thought.
Does he believe people's experiences are infected by seeing a perfume brand, reading its notes, knowing its creator? Isn't that similar to everything else? And might these "extraneous" elements be as essential to an experience as anything else? And why does it matter?
Anyway, I've signed up! Which means I'll probably be paying $50 a month to get a decant of something I already own. Or worse, have tried and don't like. But I have a feeling this experiment isn't going to last long and I want to be on the ship's deck when it sinks!
Heh -- here's what someone posted under CB's vid on YouTube:
"This sounds like your explanation of L'Eau d'Hiver. I'm guessing it's that."
Well, KP, that person who guessed L'Eau d'Hiver was correct. My 50ml arrived today, I took one whiff, and I was finished. What do I do now?
I've doubled my supply of L'Eau d'Hiver, a perfume I like but don't often wear. It seems this project has already reached an impasse.
So, I take it you're signing up for next month?