Scent as an incidental and intentional artistic material

Nikki Kane

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper will present the initial work of my in-progress research into the use of scent – both incidentally and intentionally – as a material in contemporary art. While practices and discourses of contemporary art have moved beyond the purely visual to encompass practices including sound, installation, participatory and performance art, the sense of smell has not yet been so closely examined. In this paper I will attempt to account for possible reasons for this, while working toward a more detailed and nuanced approach for discussing olfactive artworks.

By examining key examples of art works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with a scent component, I will offer ways for responding to and reflecting on such works, and what doing so might mean for fields such as art history, art criticism and exhibition studies. Crucially, I will present distinctions between the occurrence of fragrance as a consequence of materials chosen for other reasons, the use of materials for their olfactive qualities, and the specific use of fragrance molecules (individually or blended) as artwork. In doing so this presentation will discuss varying artistic practices, including those by artists for whom fragrance is their primary artistic medium, as well those for whom it is but one component.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes
EventMaterial and Visual Culture Seminar Series: Contemporary Art - Online, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Dec 2020 → …


ConferenceMaterial and Visual Culture Seminar Series
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period9/12/20 → …
Internet address


  • scent
  • scented material
  • olfactive art
  • contemporary art
  • modern art
  • material culture


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