A Sensory Package
So Tasha, what is AVM Curiosities and how did it come about?
AVM Curiosities is a creative practice that I started in 2011 as a way to explore the worlds of food and art through the senses. My background is as an Art Historian, however I specialised in food and wrote my dissertation about jelly. From there it was a slippery slope into the storytelling possibilities of the senses and the visual culture of food.
You are an established award-winning food historian so what led you to work with fragrance too? How do fragrance and food work together?
My feeling is that if you understand taste, you are attuned to smell. I had always thought of flavour as a storyteller and food as my medium. However, as time went on, I realised the poetic and personal resonance of smell added a whole other dimension. For me the possibilities of fragrance are incredibly exciting, I love that you can change an entire atmosphere with an aroma and tell a story with a sniff.
Your job is fascinating, and you work on such diverse projects, what does a normal working day look like for you?
I’m no longer sure what a normal working day looks like!
There’s so much variety in my job: one day I might be testing out an 18th-century pie recipe and the next I might be evaluating the aroma of the mummies at The British Museum. I feel extraordinarily lucky that I get to go on so many sensory adventures as part of my research.
This issue of Forecast is focused on experiences with scent, with that in mind how do the projects you work on help others experience scent in a new way?
For me scent is sculptural, both physically - because so many of my fragrances come in the form of actual statues – but also mentally, because it shapes ideas and draws people in. In terms of what I create with AVM Curiosities, my scented sculptures aim to be visual and tactile as well as aromatic. I want the viewer to be seduced by all the senses, to be tempted, to be taught and ultimately to take something positive away from the experience.
You have worked on some amazing projects - what has been the most captivating one you have worked on so far?
I couldn’t possibly pick one… but recently, I very much enjoyed creating the Scenterpiece for The Denney Edition at Rainham Hall. It’s a scented installation made in collaboration with artist Justine Hounam and CPL Aromas. The monochrome ceramic still life is infused with three different fragrances, inspired by Vogue photographer Anthony Denney’s working relationship with the food writer Elizabeth David. In keeping with Denney’s approach to the theatre of the table, the design aims to be a both a visual and olfactory feast, embodying the art of hosting and the spectacle of eating and enjoyment.
5318008 for the Being Human exhibition is an intriguing project that brings a new way to experience the scent of breast milk – a memory that nearly everyone can relate to, can you tell us a bit about the project and working with CPL to create the scent?
As part of the Wellcome Collection’s new permanent exhibition Being Human, I was commissioned to create a bespoke sensory sculpture inspired by the theme of ‘Infection’. One of the things I’m very keen to do with fragrance is create an enjoyable experience, so I began by trying to discover agreeable aromas that might be linked to the microbiome. Could infection both smell pleasant and be a positive experience itself? After over a year of research, the eventuating bronze sculpture ‘5318008’ was designed to emit an aroma that evokes the smell of human breast milk. Made in collaboration with sculptor Robert Erskine and CPL Aromas’ perfumer Elise Pierre, the piece is a celebration of the original superfood and Bifidobacteria. Transferred from mother to child through breastfeeding, this bacterium is found in babies’ digestive systems and aids the breakdown of sugars in breast milk. This aromatic tribute to this phenomenon is designed to be tactile, bodily and playful – as seen in the title, which spells ‘boobies’ backwards. Creating this piece was one of the most memorable experiences of my career, including an unforgettable trip to the Hearts Milk Bank with CPL Creative Director, Angela Stavrevska to evaluate the source material…
The ‘Stroke and Sniff’ Wallpaper and Edible bubbles for The Body Shop is also a captivating project for a brand that focuses on toiletries and personal care. How did you connect smell and food to their brand for this installation?
For the project with The Body Shop I was inspired by their new festive flavours: warm vanilla, frosty plum and juicy pear. These aromas were all about texture and atmosphere. So combined with the wonder of Christmas, the final installation had to be a bit of a Willy Wonka wonderland.
So…What’s next for AVM Curiosities?
Due to the pandemic I’m currently expanding my online content, including projects like The Digital Dinner Party, which was three courses of discussion and delicacies that I ran on behalf of the British Academy the other day. Also writing a number of articles for various publications and recording several podcasts. However, I also have an exhibition opening at the Women’s Museum in Hittisau, Austria next month and hope that scented offerings will be one of the first interactive things available as galleries and museums begin to open to the public once more.
For more information on the work Tasha and AVM Curiosities do visit:
www.avmcuriosities.com | @avmcuriosities