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Scent in Concert with Play

Updated: Dec 31, 2020


Image courtesy Yura Miron and Taya Kabaeva
"Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good." Lucia Capacchione

Surprise is one of the most exciting and inspiring moments we have as humans. As a child peekaboo rewards us with the strongest feeling of joy. As we get older it is much harder to bring the intensity of the peekaboo as we become, as Jean Piaget explained, deformed children. That said, research and curiosity are avenues that do provide this joy to us adults.

In this installation of the Odorbet we share three words from our database, selected by and one unique to the work of artist Arianna Khmelniuk. Her initiative, the olfactory playground is founded on the premise of play - and rooted in the understanding of art history (the Bauhaus), and a commitment to inter/anti-disciplinary learning in art and olfaction. Just as the Bauhaus was surreal, sensual, irrational and instinctual the olfactory playground is exploring breaking down self-imposed barriers of perfume and scent.

“Play becomes party-party becomes work-work becomes play,” Johannes Itten. *

No. 1: olfactory playground - in Arianna’s words, this is a process that has something in common with the themes in the Bauhaus movement. It is the namesake of her initiative, and a general way of approaching olfactory material. Some Bauhaus terms she finds parallel to an olfactory playground include “unified work of art and design”, “new design theory” and “unlearn” which she has mined from the book ABC’s of Bauhaus. These ABC’s of design theory were purposely presented as elementary learning, or kindergarten, much like the use of the word “playground” combined with the olfactory.

"In the olfactory playground, everyone can access and create, anywhere, of any gender, at any time. Your main medium is odorant material. Play more often."

No. 2: sensory borrowing - the linguistic impossibility of expressing olfactory experience.


Arianna describes the term sensory borrowing as any attempt to describe the experience indicates borrowing. She found the term in the book The Senses: Design Beyond Vision. For example, the term "fresh" came into use for the first time in the last century when New York was built (poor air circulation due to the city plan) and when people went out of town, then for fresh air (from the book Smell Detectives).


Arianna made a limited edition art book SENSORY BORROWING in which she and other creatives gathered words that they tried to use to describe findings during the smellwalk (also a seminal practice of Kate McLean). She then tried to translate it to several languages of her ancestors, to feel the different sounds of other languages. Interestingly, some languages had four words for the same meaning.

"Sensory borrowing is the linguistic impossibility of expressing olfactory experience."

No. 3: smellhacker - decoding and reassembly of smell information, or human perception, and/or human prejudice of odorant material.


While Arianna had never met this word before, and “assembled" it, a smell hack (#smellhack) does exist to describe ways to creatively adjust smells in one's environment.

She invited the public to a smellhacking experience in Atlanta Georgia in 2019, where they were asked to experiment with odorant material. Just as a hacker enters, breaks, and disassembles, then this is approximately the same as what Arianna suggests to do with the clichés that we have about smells (what should they be? what do we like or not? why? ...or so that we learn a new language with their help).


“A smellhacker can be anyone who dares to disagree with and not to follow the traditional narratives in perfumery".
Portrait of Arianna Khmelniuk courtesy Brandon Polack

About Arianna:

Arianna Khmelniuk an olfactory artist, antidisciplinary researcher, founder of the zapah lab and olfactory playground, currently based in Oakland, CA.

zapah lab is a research-based project dedicated to pushing experimental usage of scents in an art context, speculative and product design.


Secondary education was received in the field of theater.

Recipient of Distinguished Fellowship stipend of the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences (2018).

Duo exhibition “Phantoms and Soft Time” at Swan Coach House Gallery with Wihro Kim, curated by Qualia Projects / Iman Person (2019).

Recipient of year-long Hughley Fellowship Program and group show Controlled Burn at MOCA GA (2019).

Group shows Boka feat. Benjamin Rouse, Arianna Khmelniuk, and Danielle Brutto at the Bakery Gallery (2020).

Work was featured in Vogue (Ukraine) about replication of HIGH Museum scentscape (Atlanta, GA).


* While this was attributed to the creative, irrational and instinctive Bauhaus it wasn't entirely inclusive - women were only permitted to enter the bookmaking and weaving workshops, the former of which closed soon after the school opened leaving weaving as their only option.

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