'My art is a kind of research laboratory to stimulate people to question themselves and the universe'
Peter de Cupere, 2012
By exploiting the subjective, associative impact of smells in combination with visual images, Peter de Cupere generates a kind of meta-sensory experience that goes beyond purely seeing or smelling.
His passion for smell goes back to his youth and this passion has expressed itself in his professionalism as a visual artist. He has been using smell as a medium in his works for more than 17 years. He paints with scents, produces olfactory objects, soap paintings and sculptures, creates video and live perfumances, makes three-dimensional drawings and build poetic smell installations.
Everyone who has ever smelt his work cannot fail to recognise that his works prompt quite a reaction. You either love it or you feel attacked via your nasal senses.
Smells act directly on the limbic system and do not give you the necessary time and chance to translate things like you do with „sight“. Smells act on your memory subconsciously and so you associate your own subjective feelings with a specific smell.
Your attitude to the object is determined by the smell associated to the memory of a certain moment.
The combination of smell with the visual aspect of the artwork creates a mix that does not appear to be completely predictable. Alongside the pleasance of some smells there are also smells which warn us of danger even though habituation has made these latter ones redundant.
If you cross the street there are many damaging smells present because of pollution: exhaust fumes, rotting processes from discarded foodstuffs, toxic fumes from asphalt and other building materials that are freed by heat from the sun, polluted rain, sewers, etc. But the ordinary city person has become used to all the exhaust fumes and other air-polluting substances.
Peter de Cupere starts from the suppressed history of smells which, in our culture, still lead an almost ‘underground’ existence in comparison with the official, culturally celebrated sensual experiences. He makes with his work a statement about our experience of smell.
While olfactory art is still in its infancy, and most artists only sporadically use smell in their work, he can say that he has developed an impressive series of work with smells, and have done so in a relatively short period of time.
Like other artists from his generation, he has an attitude of respect towards the relationship between art and science.
Peter de Cupere experiments with every possible use of smells like a contemporary alchemist. Odorous material can vary from essences used in the composition of perfumes to aromas used in food, to odors that arise from diverse materials through experimentation.
His work is divided into two trends: On the one hand, it questions the nature and how we deal with nature in general, but also more particularly referring to air pollution problems, on the other hand, his work deals with ‘people’ and how people in general communicate through scents with or without knowing it.
Olfactology Lab ‘Some people call me a mad scientist’
The concept ‘laboratory’ is also an important element in Peter de Cupere's work, in which he sees the world as one great laboratory with different locations that need to be analyzed olfactorily and can be translated visually into art experiments and installations.
This analysis can go from the determination of certain olfactory aspects of a city to even the registration of the olfactory differences between various cultures, and from there, eventually making a mixture which can be translated once again into a visual work.
The relationship, society/culture versus nature/environment is an important area of research in his work. In addition, there are the—at first glance—more obvious investigations into smell and plants, for which the concept ‘flower’ is an important starting point.
The Flower Concept 'I see the flower as a horn shouting towards the society'
The ‘flower’ as both smell-producer and ideal of beauty is for Peter de Cupere not only important for the olfactory approach to the understanding of the flower, but also as a horn shouting towards society, a translation of his olfactory impression in a more visually aesthetical manner. For de Cupere, this flower can also be an opening in the ground or wall which emits a smell; think for example of a sewer or an air pipe in the wall; but he also see a kitchen exhaust system as the idea of a ‘flower’ which spreads to the external world the smell of cooking and the bodily smells of different cultures. Other examples could be a car exhaust pipe or a factory chimney. The glands in the skin of a body, the hairs of the armpit, even genitals could also be seen as flower in the meaning of a metamorphosis. If one can experience the notion of ‘flower’ in this way, then one will understand that this idea is closely related to the relation between society and culture. The flower is seen here more as translation and distribution mechanism than as a real flower. Nevertheless, besides this, Peter de Cupere also make real ‘visual florals’, but these are more aimed at the givens of the perfume world and the exchange between visual and olfactory experience.
Besides being an artist he's sometimes an inventor. He has invented the first ‘Olfactiano’, scent piano in the world and some other smell related products, like the Blind Smell Stick. And with Cartamundi he developed 'Olfacio', the first working Scent App for the iPad
Larry Shiner (Prof. aan de University of Illinois Springfield) en Yulia Kriskovets (Prof. Classika-Synetic Theatre, Arlington) wrote in “The Aesthetics of Smelly Art”( pag. 273 - pag. 286 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65:3 Summer 2007),
“One of the most prolific olfactory artists today is the Belgian, Peter De Cupere, whose scent sculptures,scent installations, perfumes, and olfactory performances seek to engage audiences through all the senses, but primarily through scent....
De Cupere has created an artistic identity that is a cross between artist and olfactory chemist that may become a model for other olfactory artists in the future.”