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Mădălina Diaconu, “Being and Making the Olfactory Self. Lessons from Contemporary Artistic Practices”. In: Di Stefano, N., Russo, M.T. (eds), Olfaction: An Interdisciplinary Perspective from Philosophy to Life Sciences (Springer, 2022)

Contemporary smelly artworks, installations and “scent sculptures” endorse philosophical and anthropological theories about the construction of identity as a relation to oneself and the others through consciousness and memory (John Locke), as a multi-staged process of social exchange (George H. Mead), as a game of risk and trust in making one’s own identity (Anthony Giddens), and as a dialectics of agency and passivity (Gernot Böhme). It is well-known that topophilic emplacement contributes to identity; olfactory site-specific installations and practices “present” specific smellscapes and reflect on their changes. Also olfactory artists who produce uncanny atmospheres recall that personal identity is built along the axes of trust and anxiety. Body odors in general are corporeal signatures that enable individual recognition, yet artists extract them in order to challenge taboos, question gender stereotypes and build open identities. The crucial role of odors for both self-acceptance and non-verbal communication makes artists use them as a means of fostering a new sense of solidarity on a local as well as on a global level. Finally, other artistic projects subvert the anthropological difference and rehabilitate other species’ olfactory sensitivity. With the aid of modern technology, they promise to fulfil old dreams about enlarging the spectrum of our nose and controlling incoming odors and body emissions. Thus, in a paradoxical way, they both advocate to return to the prehuman and urge to become posthuman.