It seems, in our times of antiseptic cities and scentless cyber-existence, the hunger for scent in the cultural arena is larger than ever. As such, the Urban Scent Walk (USW) seems to have hit the spot at the 2014 Biennale Bern! Attended by more than a hundred people of a variety of ages and backgrounds, the USW was one of the biggest hits of the biennale, selling out for most of its engagements, spurring interest in making it a regular feature in Bern, and generating calls to expand it to nearby cities.
Conceived by Claus Noppeney, curated by Ashraf Osman, and conducted by Marta Kwiatkowski, the walk presented more than a dozen scents created by Swiss perfumer, Andreas Wilhelm, in a variety of media: some evoking historic olfactory memories of the city; some invoking imaginary scents, be they mythological, conceptual, or abstract; and some sensitizing our urban experience and creating awareness of the deodorization of our environments and hierarchy of—and ambivalence towards—scents in it.
Even when the walk wasn’t taking place, the interest it generated in urban scent was sustained through the installation of a scent station outside the former studio of Bernese painter, Friedrich Traffelet, for the duration of the biennial. The installation evoked the linseed oil and turpentine smell of the former street-level studio under a mural by Traffelet that reads in German,
“Here prevail beauty and taste. Here it smells pleasantly of paint.
Here painted in oil and paste: Friedrich Taffelet master-painter”