Modern Mating – The Institute for Art and Olfaction

Modern Mating 
by Susan Barbour
Residency: May 1 – July 10, 2017


The Institute for Art and Olfaction is pleased to host poet, scholar, wine expert, and olfactory artist Susan Barbour for a six week residency around her project ‘Modern Mating’ ((with Elise Wells). Susan will also be using her time at the IAO for practice-based research related to an ongoing non-fiction writing project.



As part of Susan’s time at the IAO, we will produce several public workshops relating to her work with pheromones.

Neck_PheromonesThurs 06/ 22 + Thurs 07/06 –  Human Pheromones: The Emperor’s New Clothes?
A two-part workshop
at The Institute for Art and Olfaction

Join artist-in-residence Susan Barbour for a scintillating two-phase workshop designed to explore the hotly debated role of human pheromones. While scientists have long acknowledged the importance of olfactory signals in the animal and insect kingdom, the jury is still out as to how–and even if–they affect human behavior. Do we each possess an olfactory imprint that affects our social and romantic relations? And can we alter or augment their power through commercially available pheromone compounds?

06/22 – PHASE ONE
During phase one of this workshop, Susan will guide us in an organoleptic assessment of one another’s body odors, sniffing and commenting on each other’s (anonymously numbered) well-worn t-shirts. We will conduct this round-table discussion by sharing objective notes and subjective associations, the same way a professional perfumer would assess an aromatic compound or a sommelier would evaluate a wine’s bouquet.

After exploring the manifold ways that the human armpit ignites the imagination, each participant will receive a sample spray vial of six different commercially available pheromone products (one of which will be a placebo). Over the course of the next two weeks, each participant will test out the various pheromones by wearing them at work, at home, and at play, observing and collecting experiential data for our next meeting.

07/06 – PHASE TWO
During phase two of the workshop we will share and discuss our observations, and Susan will reveal which samples contain which pheromones (or the absence of them). She will also discuss research findings from the past decade of scientific experiments with pheromones. Together we will discuss how our experiential data squares with theirs, and form our own conclusion about whether human pheromones do indeed exist. She will end by giving us a sneak preview of “Modern Mating,” her sculptural installation with fellow artist Elise Wells that is scheduled to appear at The Museum of Sex in Manhattan in Summer 2018.

Time: 7:30 – 9:30 pm, both dates
Cost: $20 materials fee
Notes: Limited to sixteen participants. In order to assure anonymity and control variables in this experiment, each participant will be asked to procure a Hanes 100% cotton white crewneck t-shirt in their size. Be sure to wash the shirt with unscented detergent before wearing. Subjects should wear the shirt to bed for one week (and preferably also while exercising or in the sauna) and store it in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Please refrain from using scented products or deodorant while wearing the shirt.

WARNING: This workshop is not for the humorless (no pun intended) or the feint at heart. Although t-shirts will be sniffed from anonymous bags, we advise you come only if you are prepared to receive uncensored feedback about your body odor from a room full of noses—including (egad!) your partner’s, should you dare to bring them along.


While in residence at IAO, Susan Barbour will be developing scents for “Modern Mating,” a pheromone installation she will create with artist Elise Wells.

This piece offers an interactive olfactory experience that explores the role of scent in human seduction, allowing visitors to experience natural pheromones alongside synthetic ones—all in a visually stimulating environment that showcases the barrage of information found in the dating and donor profiles confronting the twenty-first century person seeking a romantic or biological mate.

This intimate, subjective smelling encounter contrasts with the objective data encounter, creating a provocative experience that highlights the paradoxes of modern mating.

During her time at The Institute for Art and Olfaction, Susan will also be refining formulas for her newly launched fragrance project POESIS, a series of artisanal scents inspired by poetry, wine, language, music, and art.

These two projects will also serve as practice-based research for her ongoing nonfiction study Redolence: The Poetics of Smell.



susanSusan Barbour is a poet, scholar, wine expert, and olfactory artist. She earned a B.A. from Dartmouth, an M.A. in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and a D. Phil. in English Literature from Oxford, where she was a Clarendon Scholar and The Somerville College Graduate Scholar in the Humanities. She also holds the Level 4 Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and is a certified French Wine Scholar.

Susan’s poetry and essays have appeared in literary magazines including The Paris Review, Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Five Dials, and Oxford Poetry, and her scholarship has been published in academic journals such as Textual Practice, Transatlantica, and The Oxford Review of English Studies. She also recently completed an autobiographical novel, American Dreamer: A Poet’s Story of Wall Street, as well as a monograph on the art and poetry of Susan Howe.

While teaching for the French Embassy in 2005, Susan toured France’s winemaking regions and decided to pursue advanced training in oenology. In addition to extensive travel throughout the wine regions of France, Italy, Spain, and North America, she has been an intern at Château Clôs Fourtet in Saint Émilion, sold wine at New York’s famed Sherry-Lehmann, led Champagne tastings aboard cruises on the Seine, and served as a teaching assistant at the International Wine Center in New York. Dubbed “The Wine Poet of Paris” by Lonely Planet, she is known for dynamic tasting events in which she guides audiences in appreciating the vibrant language and poetic imagery of wine. Training her nose for blind-tasting exams fueled an ongoing interest in the language we use to describe smell—the subject of her current book-in-progress—and also inspired her to discover the art of perfumery at the IAO where she is a regular student and practitioner.

Susan has been the recipient of fellowships from The James B. Reynolds Foundation, The Rothermere American Studies Institute, The Huntington Library, The Bogliasco Foundation, The Beinecke Library at Yale, The Jentel Artist Residency, and The Dora Maar House/Brown Foundation. She has lectured at Johns Hopkins, École Polytechnique, and Merton College, Oxford and has held research positions at Columbia University and Caltech. She is currently based in Los Angeles where she works as a freelance writer, wine educator, and perfumer.