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Olfaction is our first and most primitive sense. Smell is so powerful that its loss – known as smell blindness or anosmia – can induce depression. Yet, we seem to have no language to understand smell. Designers are really only trained to rely on and give words to senses like sight and touch. Graduate Mickaël Wiesengrün challenges the visitor of the Graduation Show to analyze smell. In his fragile-looking installation, fog is flowing through glass tubes and comes out as the smell that used to be predominant in the White Lady building: the smell of the Philips light bulb factory. It gives the visitor an extra layer of information about the ground he’s standing on. “It makes you more aware of the heritage of a certain place and it adds to your understanding of how we got here today.”

Stick your nose into sweat, grease and metal, and observe the reaction of your body and mind. “Smell immediately triggers our nervous system and our awareness of where we are,” says Wiesengrün. “It seems to work faster than other sensory input. When people walk into a room that smells of sweat, they start feeling uncomfortable in seconds. Is it me? Did I forget to spray on my deodorant? When you smell metal, your memory will quickly lead you to a place where you actually smelled this.”

In his work, Wiesengrün adds matter to smell. “In the installation you can actually see the otherwise intangible and invisible smell flowing through the glass pipes. The smell is embodied in the fog. You can smell the 3 ingredients separately, so you understand what the scent is actually made up of.” 

The installation will reveal more about the White Lady building then what meets the eye. Wiesengrün admits he is a little nostalgic himself, and that he has always been curious about the history of places. But that, he claims, is not the main reason to focus so much on smell. “I want to make people more aware of their nose as a tool, and encourage them to investigate what in the smell unleashes mental or physiological reactions.”

Wiesengrün worked with glass blower Ad Waterschoot who worked in the Philips light bulb factory when it was situated in the White Lady building. He also created a close collaboration with the world’s master of scent, Sissel Tolaas. She guided him through the process of using the right smells, and eventually provided the odors of sweat, grease and metal. 

“Sissel dedicated her whole life and career to smell,” Wiesengrün says.  “I will never be like that, but I was totally amazed by how she masters the art of recreating scents. I smelled her Cartier collection of places in Paris, like the smell of still pond water and a slaughterhouse. I just burst into laughter because these smells that from a bottle are so accurate, it’s almost unbelievable.” 

Although he is fascinated by the human sense of smell, he doesn’t want to claim to be an expert. “I just started. I would like to develop more installations and objects that grasp smell. But I’ve just taken a few first steps and I’m happy they have worked out this way.” 

Wiesengrün says that studying at Design Academy Eindhoven gave him knowledge about himself and about how he looks at the world. “As a designer you can easily end up clueless and without any direction. In the academy you learn to avoid that, by investigating yourself. You are pushed into taking control, in making your own plan for your education. This doesn’t mean that I know exactly how my life will look like. But it does mean I have discovered what works for me as a designer.”


Installation 'Grasping Smell', part of the upcoming Graduation Show 2014

Published: 10-Oct-2014 13:46


Graduation 2014
  • Grasping the smell of a past

    Grasping Smell, Mickael Wiesengrun, Photo by Lisa Klappe

  • Grasping the smell of a past