The other dimension of art, after space and time. Scent.
The smell is the most memory-triggering sense. The odour is the catalyst for a heap of electrical synapses that retrieve, somewhere between the amygdala and hippocampus, a past, an emotion, a mundane mental picture. Smell is an inner, personnel travel, a clash between the past and the present.
Relying on the sense of smell when visiting an exhibition is to unravel several possibilities and experiences in contemporary art, expanding it beyond its optical and haptic qualities, confronting art with different memories. Beyond the visual and sound immersion, beyond touch itself, the smell completes this sort of holism that contemporary art has been developing, particularly in installations. The often-present concept of “Gesamtkunstwerk”, total work of art, becomes total indeed when summoning every sensory organ.
Nowhere Fast is an exhibition that presents us the so-called olfactory art, establishing an honest dialogue with drawing and ceramics, with a spiritual layer – religious, if we want – given by the place where the installation is assembled – a hermitage. And, despite the limited number of works, five elements basically, this is an outstanding experience nevertheless.
Teresa Gonçalves Lobo’s works introduce us to the visuality of art. Three drawings are the by-product of a strenuous choreography, physically demanding, from a body that surrenders itself to the paper just to able to scratch it. Formalism meets abstract expressionism, which then finds the large scope of drawing by tossing it to the chapel’s ground. Three drawings vitally throbbing, three flames that converge into a fragrance that is also reminiscent of sacred fires, burning incense, ashes and the land of Sven Pritzkoleit’s perfume, with artistic direction – stressed (in the first person) by the curatorial text – of the curator Miguel Matos. In the centre, mediating the drawings’ strength, a ceramic piece by Thomas Mendonça suggests a burned, ignited organism, exhaling – one last gasp – the scent that fills the nave’s atmosphere.
Nonetheless, the concept is based on a song that shares its name with the exhibition, of the film Streets of Fire. But if the movie is taken by the knee-jerk movements of a flashy production, with bikers and chasing scenes, this show demands time, something incompatible with the film itself. The fire of art is the everlasting flame. The time of the art is more perennial than extinguishing. The time of smell, according to science, lasts for months. Far from Hollywood-esque places, where life aspires to a thriller as an existential condition, here we are confronted with a place of meditation, dignity and sacredness.
To be seen until 20 June, in Ermida da Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in Belém, Lisbon.