“Vaporized bodies” explores the human desire to preserve and materialize the most intimate parts of our relationships. Instead of taking a photograph of our beloved ones, I attempted to encapsulate the scent of my own mother for the future, when she eventually passes away.
As the project evolves, the process itself becomes a big part of the artwork and raises many questions about how our lives revolve around scents and how we could consciously use scents to remind us of our past more authentically than photographs do.
This fabricated fragrance was present during my stay back home, together with my mother, and then sealed into the glass vessel that can be reopened only by breaking the vessel. Scents cannot be digitized or documented. We can re-experience scent only by being present. Therefore the glass plays a role of a protector and of a vulnerable element of this memory.
I decided to keep this project free from conventional photography so the visuals are created as an attempt to visualize smells, specifically the ones reminding me of winter in Slovakia. Lumen prints react with organic material and as the material “smells” more, it creates a bigger imprint on the paper.
The entire process of scent extraction is described in the publication.
Scent extraction: Dafni Melidou
Lab: Sandrine D´Haene
Glass blowing: Suzette Bousema
When we take photographs, we irreducibly impose a fragment
of ourselves on the final frame. We can use the banal example
of a family photograph. We dress nicely, sit next to our sibling
who we secretly pinch in the back while the photograph is
being taken, and after it is all done, we continue our chaotic
but perfectly humane family scenario.
Years later, we look back at it, perhaps with the residues of
what had happened when this photograph was taken, but
most probably this is nowhere to be found in our (conscious)
And that is what bothers me about seeing.
Sight, similarly to hearing, is a rational sense. When we see,
we decode light bouncing off the objects. Therefore having a
photograph of something is just an imprint of this light being
bounced off the objects, which we again decode in present
time and space.
A Photograph here is then a gateway to what our (or
someone else´s) eyes have experienced before. And already
that experience was in a way very impersonal. Decoding light.
from a distance. Limited by the visible spectrum of the human eye.
Scents, on the other hand, cannot even be digitized.
We cannot even have an imprint of a scent. We cannot
document it in any authentic way.
The act of smelling means to be present with the source of
To smell means to inhale scent molecules, physically take
them into our body for a short moment. If I smell “you”, it
means that you are a part of me for a while. But if I see you,
I am only acknowledging your presence, with a photograph,
not even that. I am acknowledging your existence...from a distance.
The glass adds both the aspect of protection and an element of
fragility and vulnerability.
In order to protect and keep the scent inside, it also needs to
be vulnerable to the possibility of breakage.
With the help of a glassblower, I created a special vessel.
Using the breath to shape this object. And heat, with a help of
All while not being able to control the process completely.
It is a dialogue with the material. A compromise.
I could pull and blow only that much as the material allowed me to.
I wanted to stress this contingency of accessing memory.
Similar to the smell of the seasons, it just “hits” you one day.
You cannot really predict when.
So if I or my mother, or even a stranger, break the glass. I might
associate the scent that will immediately contaminate the
room with this winter.
But I will never know until It happens.
And I do not know who will be left with this scent. Me? My
mother? None of us?
It can also silently break in a drawer ten years from now.
Without me even noticing.
The memory can completely disappear without me or her
being able to do anything.
And that is the beauty of it. Accepting the uncertainty. The
vulnerability of the materials, the vulnerability of us.