“Can we evoke experiences of intimacy by constructing a time, space, and a feeling using different sensations including auditory, visual and olfactory perceptions as well as languages?” Our research question was inspired by synesthesia and the study of multisensory integration in perceptual science, and we investigated it by using a sensation that was overlooked --- Smell.
Due to the vision’s strong impact on people’s daily life, from the dominant position of vision in human perception, to the visual-oriented culture led by social media, we often make decisions based on what we see. Seeing is an asymptote to believing.
This brings our attention to smell, a sensation that is not given much credit, yet it speaks to our past. When olfactory information is processed by the brain, it does not travel to the thalamus directly, but to brain regions that process emotion (amygdala) and memory (entorhinal cortex and hippocampus). Therefore, making use of the smell might help summon up the experience of intimacy.
Our final project pursues our objective by redistributing different sensations and emphasizing smell. It consists of two phases, a physical interaction with a sensory kit, and collective memory sharing via an online archive. The sensory kit was distributed by mail to the participants. An act that, by itself, represents intimacy in the post-COVID era. Four scents were smelt, experienced, and thought over by the participants, and they were asked to use colours to describe the scent in different stages in the survey.
The collected colours and words responses were turned into a collective colour gallery— Scentscape Visualization. The starting and ending colour of each gradient is the first and the last impression of the scent described by the participants. The gradient change symbolizes their path of rediscovering their memories and their introspective selves.
Link to the project:
Audrey (Zhuohan) Jiang
Audrey is a vision scientist in training at McGill Vision Research Unit. She has been interested in human perception since undergrad and has investigated perception from different angles. Her current goal is to go to the Vision Science Society Annual Meeting in Florida, USA in person since she had to cancel the trip near the beach at Florida in the VSS Annual Meeting 2020 because of Covid. “Give me the beach!” She said.
In her spare time, she enjoys watching films and is an enthusiastic film festival goer. She has been to Telluride Film Festival, New York Film Festival and Shanghai International Film Festival, and she frequently fell asleep during the screenings in those movie festivals for different reasons.
Last but not the least, she is also a semi-anthropologist. Her favorite activity is to go to a college party and do human-watching without alcohol. Her work unfortunately suspended because of the current pandemic.
Félix Beaudry is a Montreal-based artist and designer. Formally trained in industrial design, and ceramics, his artistic practice is focused on the materiality of traditional culture. He investigates the link between the design of traditional objects and the society that produces it. More specifically, he creates future forms for the objects that are not being addressed by the global systems of production. Félix is currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Design and Computation Arts and is also the current Coordinator of Designs for Concordia’s Precious Plastic Project (CP3). He created Trad & Design in 2020 to bring his creations and Ideas to the public.
Social Media: https://www.instagram.com/felix_beaudry_designer/
Manami Izawa is an undergraduate student in her last year at Concordia University, pursuing her passion for design. She was born and raised in Japan. During her undergraduate study of linguistics, a one-year student exchange program in Nice, France, gave her a new insight into the world of design.
Her goal is to help create an inclusive design with her background in B.A. of Linguistics, certificate of Pedagogy and Graphic Design. She is also a runner in her free time as running in nature provides her design inspiration. Her art medium involves physical objects to create a tactile experience. By interacting with her artwork, people can become aware of the importance of human relationships, which is often ignored in scientific research.
Link to the portfolio: https://manamiizawa.myportfolio.com/
We recommend you to watch the film in full screen
The research question was inspired by the phenomenon of synesthesia and the study of multisensory integration in perceptual science. Particularly, we want to introduce olfactory perception into our project as a special agency of memory and emotion. The image below illustrates how olfactory stimuli are processed by the brain. Besides odour, all the other sensory information will go to the thalamus, the relay center of the sensory information, also often regarded as the “gateway to consciousness”, before it travels to the cerebral cortex. However, olfactory nerves do not proceed to thalamus directly, but travel to brain regions that process emotion, such as the amygdala, and memory, such as the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus. Targeting the close relationship between smell and memory might be helpful for summoning up the experience of intimacy for the participants.
Figure1: How olfactory stimuli is processed by the brain. Photo courtesy of Corbac40/Shutterstock. Accessed November 25, 2020.
Moreover, our project also aims to experiment with human perception by redistributing the components of each sense. This was inspired by Audrey, who is a vision scientist but is nonetheless afraid of the power that human beings have been given to vision. In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman raised concerns about how a visual-oriented culture led by television can be the deathbed of serious conversations. The situation can only be worse now, as the usage of social media becomes everyday life. People see and post without the process of thinking and understanding. Another important reason for sensory redistribution is that lessening the component of visual images, and strengthening the auditory and olfactory experiences will leave the participants with more latitude and freedom in processing thoughts. They can only refer back to their own memory or imaginations instead of the images that are provided by the creators, thus this experience is personal.
However, while vision has the lower priority in our project, we will still incorporate it in a different way, which includes colours or shapes. In Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, Don Norman mentions that the appearance of objects affects the user experience, which is called the visceral design. The use of colours of images will provide different kinds of emotions to the consumers in industrial design. This claim certainly has its scientific backbone, as scientists have connected colour perception with emotion or affect1.
Valdez P, Mehrabian A. Effects of color on emotions. J Exp Psychol Gen. 1994 Dec;123(4):394-409. doi:10.1037//0096-3418.104.22.1684. PMID: 7996122.