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Exploring Smell Vocabularies and Classification Systems 
Curated by Caro Verbeek for Odorama
Curated by Klara Ravat, Saskia Wilson-Brown for Hackathon
Produced by the Institute for Art and Olfaction, Caro Verbeek, Klara Ravat, Mediamatic
This event is being made possible with generous support from IFF
With further support from WOW Hostel
January 19 – 21, 2018
Mediamatic, Amsterdam


When we classify scents, what structures do we adopt?
When we speak about scent, what language do we use?
Can we do better?

These are the questions we will explore and possibly answer over three days of talks and participant-led workshops, in the world’s first Scent Hackathon, at Mediamatic in Amsterdam.



THe IAO teams up with Klara Ravat and curator Caro Verbeek in a weekend devoted to dismantling, analyzing and (potentially) restructuring how we classify odors, and exploring how we communicate about – and with – scent. The theme of the weekend was inspired in part by Sissel Tolaas‘ work with NASALO, as well as other pioneering work around language and scent taxonomies.

The weekend program starts with a special edition of Caro Verbeek’s Odorama: ‘Reading scents: experimental approaches to preserving and describing aromatic heritage’, where Peter de Cupere, Kate McLean, Laura Speed and Cecilia Bembibre will present the work they have done with language and olfaction. The talks will be supplemented by a performance by Han van der Vegt and Klara Ravat.

The following day, we initiate our two day “hackathon”. This will start with a brief talk by Cecilia Bembibre about existing scent taxonomies, a talk by Caro Verbeek about existing olfactory vocabularies (and current and past efforts made in this realm), and a smelling session led by Saskia Wilson-Brown where we find the classification language for materials that don’t easily slot into existing scent structures. Klara Ravat will then help self-directed working groups set goals and outcomes, and we’ll get to work.

By the end of the weekend of smelling, problem-identifying and – yes – hacking into existing structures and aromatic archetypes, we hope to be able to present an enhancement on how we use existing language to describe scent, and a re-invention of how we classify odorants. We also hope to experiment with assigning data-driven meanings to specific aromatic chemicals.




Reading scents: Experimental approaches to preserving and describing aromatic heritage

Friday, January 19, 8pm

The Odorama series, curated by Caro Verbeek, includes lectures, workshops and performances organized to investigate the role of smell in art, culture and science. Our motto is borrowed from Umberto Eco ‘scents should be turned into stimuli for critical reflection’. To overcome the explanatory gap, an AromaJockey diffuses scents to illustrate lectures and to inform the audience on both an intellectual and sensory level. This makes Odorama quite unique, and we further this dedication to visceral experience by creating scent scripts, in collaboration with our guests. Past speakers include psychologists Charles Spence, E.P Kösters, psycholinguists Laura Speed and Ilja Croijmans, synaesthesia expert Cretien van Campen, food designer Marije Vogelzang, and many more.

Peter de Cupere
Kate McLean
Cecilia Bembibre
Laura Speed
With a performance by Han van der Vegt with Klara Ravat

Date: Friday, January 19
Time: 8:00pm – 10:00pm



Exploring, dismantling, and rebuilding scent classification systems
Saturday, January 20 + Sunday, January 21

A hackathon is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects.

We were attracted to this culture of collaboration and sharing, and so we thought to apply the principles of the hackathon to the question of scent taxonomies, inviting perfumers, artists, programmers, technologists and thinkers to explore how we speak and communicate about scent.

The goals of our hackathon are to:
+ Explore potential global signifiers in specific odorants
+ Create theoretical (but systematic) data points for a taxonomy of aroma
+ Create new, better prototype to replace the fragrance wheel
+ Create a better linguistic structure for scent

Like the events before this, our weekend will start with presentations, after which participants will be encouraged to suggest ideas and form teams based on individual interests and skills. These teams will work together for the remainder of the weekend, exploring and formulating solutions to a topic of their choice. The weekend will culminate with a series of presentations about the individual teams’ findings. We will post videos and findings on the internet, and help facilitate further working groups.

DAY 1: Saturday January 20, 10am – 6pm

10am: Introduction, setting of larger ‘goals’
10:20am: Cecilia Bembibre: Scent Taxonomies
10:45am: Group smelling and discussion
12:30pm: Lunch break
1:30pm: Caro Verbeek: Olfactory Vocabularies
2:00pm: Breakout groups
5:30pm: First responses, group presentations
6:00pm: Drinks!

DAY 2: Sunday January 21, 10am – 6pm

10am: Welcome + Review
10:30am: Breakout groups
12:30pm: Lunch break
1:30pm: Breakout groups
5:00pm: Group presentations, conclusions
6:00pm: Drinks

Date: Saturday, January 20 + Sunday January 21
Time: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Cost: Free

(Text by Saskia Wilson-Brown).

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