Communicating Scent – The Institute for Art and Olfaction

Exploring Smell Vocabularies and Classification Systems
January 19 – 21, 2018
Mediamatic, Amsterdam

Produced by Caro Verbeek, Klara Ravat, Saskia Wilson-Brown
Presented by The Institute for Art and Olfaction and Mediamatic
Special thanks to IFF, and WOW Hostel Amsterdam


iffThis event was made possible with generous materials support from IFF



+ (by Ashraf Osman): ‘NON-SCENTS: SMELL OF THE ABSURD(H)!
+ Futurist Scents (by Caro Verbeek): ‘Dancing scent and aromatizing movement
+ Futurust Scents (by Caro Verbeek): ‘“Something smells quite caprylic. Or is it more empyreumatic? No it’s Ltpɨt” How historical and existing smell vocabularies can enrich our language for smells’
+ (by Frank Bloem): ‘Breakout group on communicating smells.’

+ IAO blog: An overview of day 1
+ IAO Blog: An overview of day 2
+ Facebook: Photo feed




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

These are the questions we explored and attempted to answer over three days of talks and participant-led workshops, in the world’s first Scent Hackathon.

The Institute for Art and Olfaction, Mediamatic, Klara Ravat, Caro Verbeek, and Saskia Wilson-Brown teamed up to produce 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 program started with a special edition of Caro Verbeek’s Odorama, titled ‘Reading scents: experimental approaches to preserving and describing aromatic heritage’. Researchers Kate McLean, Laura Speed and Cecilia Bembibre presented the work they have done with language and olfaction, supplemented by a performance by Han van der Vegt and Klara Ravat.

The following day, we initiated our two day “hackathon”. This started 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 looked for alternative classification language for materials (provided by IFF) that don’t easily slot into existing scent structures. Klara Ravat then oversaw the formation of self-directed working groups, who got together to set goals and outcomes for the rest of their time together.

By the end of the weekend of smelling, problem-identifying and revisiting existing structures and aromatic archetypes, we hoped to present a possible enhancement on how we use existing language to describe scent, and a deep examination of how we communicate odorants. We also hoped 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
This event is public, with ticket purchase

_odorama2The 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

Friday, January 19
8:00pm – 10:00pm
Cost: €10.00 for Hackathon participants (first come first serve, until Jan. 2)

HACKATHON ATTENDEES: There are 25 tickets set aside online for discounted entry until January 2, on a first come first serve basis. After this, any remaining tickets reserved will be released for public sale at the regular rate (€15.00 regular presale // €10.00 students). Please email us if you didn’t receive the email with the discount code:



Exploring, dismantling, and rebuilding scent classification systems
Saturday, January 20 + Sunday, January 21
This event is by invitation only, except for the Group Presentations on Sunday, at 5pm

_SummitA 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
12:30: Blending Demonstration
1:00pm: Lunch break
2:00pm: Caro Verbeek: Olfactory Vocabularies
2:30pm: 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  * THIS IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, ON FIRST COME FIRST SERVE
6:00pm: Drinks

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

Want to participate in the hackathon?
Space is extremely limited. Email us at, and please provide an area of expertise (we are looking for people working with data, coders, technologists, historians, linguists, creative thinkers, chemists, and perfumers.)

The public components of the Hackathon are on a strict first-come first-serve basis. Selections from the results will be published online.

We are unable to offer assistance with accommodations or travel costs for the weekend. However, we recommend WOW Hostel as a low-cost and nice place to stay in Amsterdam.




Caro Verbeek
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

_CaroVerbeekCaro Verbeek (1980, Amsterdam) is an art historian, curator, teacher and a researcher specialised in the sensory dimension of 20th century art. She was affiliated to the Stedelijk Museum and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), before switching to an academic career.

Verbeek is currently working on her PhD “In Search of Scents Lost – (Re-)constructing the Aromatic Heritage of the Avant-garde” on Futurist and Surrealist smells in a cultural context at VU University, with IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances) and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Her peer reviewed articles include “Something Smelly about Olfactory Art” (Karakter, 2012), “Inhaling Memories” (Senses & Society, 2013), “Inhaling Futurism” (Avans Hogeschool, 2014) , “Scented Colours” (Routledge, 2016) and “Olfactory Reconstructions in the Museum- Two Case Studies” (Future Anterior, 2016). In 2015 she wrote the book Something in the Air – Scent in Art, with a chronological and analytical account of olfactory works of art in the 20th and 21st century. It accompanied the exhibition with the same name, organised at Villa Rot (Germany).

Since 2010 Verbeek is teaching the course “The Other Senses” which she set up for the ArtScience Department at the Royal Academy of Arts (The Hague). She regularly lectures (100+) on historical scents and how smell can once again play a role in education at universities, art academies, grammar schools and museums. Her TedxTalk “Inhaling the Past, Smelling the Future” was ‘a dream come true, diffusing aromas from the past in the deodorised City Theatre with an AromaJockey.

Furthermore Verbeek is specialised in olfactory tours and interventions in museums (for example: Amsterdam Museum, Biblical Museum, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven). In 2014 she started the scent culture platform “Odorama” at Mediamatic Amsterdam, with topics varying from synaesthesia, language, health care and anthropology to niche perfumery, art and design in relation to scent.

Learn more


Klara_4_WebKlara Ravat
Berlin, Germany

Klara Ravat is an olfactory artist and experimental filmmaker based in Berlin.

By opposing the division between the realm of memory and the realm of experience, Ravat absorbs the tradition of remembrance art into daily practice. By investigating the concept of landscape in an adventurous and exploratory way, she wants to amplify the wonderment of the spectator by creating compositions or settings that generate tranquil poetic images that leave traces and balances on the edge of alienation and recognition.

After studying qualitative trend research in Barcelona Klara moved to The Netherlands where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (ArtScience at The Royal Academy of Arts). At the same time she studied Psychology at the Open University of Catalonia. Klara is the co-founder of the Smell Lab, a community project that focuses on the investigation and practice of the art and science of the sense of smell. In 2017 she teamed up with the Institute for Art and Olfaction to co-produce the first Experimental Scent Summit and recently concluded a residency at Mediamatic, Amsterdam.

Learn more


Saskia Wilson-Brown
Los Angeles, USA


Former co-director of Los Angeles’ seminal Silver Lake Film Festival, programmer and juror for film festivals such as Slamdance and Gen Art, Saskia Wilson-Brown headed up the international filmmaker outreach and development arm of Al Gore’s Current TV.

Saskia has spoken at a wide range of events and conferences (including Sundance, Open Video Conference, Power to the Pixel), has served as an industry mentor at SxSW Film, and has contributed as a writer to publications such as WorkBook Project, Filmmaker Magazine and Getty Iris. As a consulting producer, she has lent her support to media projects and initiatives around new models in filmmaking or the arts, including the peer-to-peer distribution system Vodo, Open Video Alliance Filmmaker Summit, Lance Weiler’s DIY Days, TED Conference’s TEDActive Innovation Lab, and special independent film programs such as the biennial Ultra Fabulous: Beyond Drag and the screening series Cinema Speakeasy, which she founded in 2009. She has also served as a programmer and juror for film festivals including GenArt and Slamdance Film Festival, amongst others.

In 2012, her interest in experimental spaces led her to found The Institute for Art and Olfaction, a non-profit arts organization devoted to experimentation and access in perfumery. As head of the IAO, she has worked with international institutions including the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Getty, SxSW, Goethe Institut, Silent Green Kulturquartier, Hammer Museum, Natural History Museum, Huntington Library, Wallace Collection, Otis College, Watts Gallery, Craft and Folk Art Museum, and many more. In 2013, she launched the Art and Olfaction Awards, an awards mechanism for independent, artisan and experimental perfumers, which she has produced in Los Angeles (2014, 2015, 2016), Berlin (2017) and London (2018). In addition to countless art installations and events, she has also initiated and co-produced large public-facing experimental programs relating to olfaction including the A. I. X. Scent Fair at Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), The Experimental Scent Summit at Silent Green Kulturquartier (Berlin) and the first ever scent hackathon, at Mediamatic (Amsterdam). She continues her interest in media by consulting as the director of operations at the film distribution and technology company, and for the media technology company IB5K.

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IAO_2The Institute for Art and Olfaction
Los Angeles, USA

Founded in September 2012 in Los Angeles, The Institute for Art and Olfaction is a 501(c)3 non-profit devoted to advancing public, artistic and experimental engagement with scent. We do this by initiating and supporting experimental projects that utilize the medium of scent, by providing accessible and affordable education in our laboratory as well as in partnership with institutions and community groups, and by celebrating excellence in independent, artisan and experimental perfumery through our yearly award mechanism, The Art and Olfaction Awards.

Through these efforts, we extend the world of scent beyond its traditional boundaries of appreciation and use.

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Mediamatic is a cultural institution dedicated to new developments in the arts since 1983. We organize lectures, workshops and art projects, focusing on nature, biotechnology and art+science in a strong international network. At Mediamatic we are always looking for new developments in society. We are interested in how art, design and science merge and how we can use this to experiment with new (living) materials. We challenge the senses and tackle perceptions regarding food, waste and unconventional materials such as piss, bacteria and fungi. The processes involved are all based on sustainable principles, as we are happy to contribute to a circular economy.

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