PDIV – |7-1 the form of smell

” SMELL. “


Heng Tong  x  Hong Sheng


As discussed in the previous week, we have narrowed down our direction into an installation that takes in the smell of people in NTU. As such, the smell that the installation is idealised to emit is dependent on the very people that interact with it. 

We envision our installation to take ‘form’ in the collection of scent only after a given duration in a particular location. 

Our thoughts are really complicated and difficult to explain, so to give you a clearer understanding, below is an analogy. 

Disclaimer: Bear with us…




We have previously put much focus on the given location and environment as our starting point for our installation. However as we looked deeper into the idea, we realised that a given location is only deemed from the objects, people and activities happening within it. In that very sense, the outcome of the collection of smell will be determined by the very catalyst of the human activities happening within the vicinity.

We looked at the article shared with us by Fabrizio regarding scent marketing. We understand the idea of a given scent in a particular place allows familiarization of people to a brand. In the case study of Changi Airport, a distinct perfume is created to induce travellers and locals a familiar ‘home’ scent. 

In the case of our idea, we want to twist the very idea by amplifying the very scent within a given location, determined by the objects and people of NTU. We have previously confirmed that at different parts of NTU, there is a distinct difference in a scent of the given vicinity, and by collecting it can we amplify the scent.

To put our direction in a more layman term, we found a similar everyday activity that we are acclimatised to do that in a way that epitomise our idea – the rubbish bin.

The primary function of a rubbish bin is a container that holds trash, with a cap that induces people to throw rubbish into the void it contains. As a stand-alone, the single entity of a rubbish bin is scentless. 

Rather, the form of the rubbish bin induces trash to be stored within it; and the human activity of throwing trash into the rubbish bin stores trash inside, resulting in a stench created over time.  As such, the rubbish bin is characterised by the trashes that are dumped into it.

In the sense that the human activity of throwing trash characterised the rubbish bin through the result of stench forming over time. The rubbish bin can then be seen as a tangible installation that collects and emit the very smell.   

Similar to the function of a rubbish bin, we would like to create an installation that collects the smell of activities of NTU students; by inducing human activities in the form of interaction with the installation.

Still… bear with us…please

At this point, we realised that we are working towards creating an ‘anti-installation’. We understand that the purpose of our project is to enrich the lives of NTU students through a positive outcome.

Perhaps in your mind at this current moment, the outcome of our installation is somewhat negative. Perhaps over time, the smell collected and emitted will be cluttered with the stench of cigarettes, grease, trash etc. Perhaps the analogy of the rubbish bin is a negative example that trails your mind into thinking that way.

However, at this juncture, we cannot foresee the outcome of the installation, for the outcome is variable. Rather, can we envision the collection of ‘positive’ scent, just like the pages of books, off-cut wood, green cut grass etc? (Of course, these are all idealistic interpretations, but you get my point…right?)


From suggestions of our peers and Professor Ker Siang, we look upon more similar research. 

Yankee Candle

Yankee candles are known for characterising each distinctive scent with a extravagant name or phrase.

In a way, the Yankee candle epitomises the ideals of smell-branding.

By giving an extravagant name to each particular scent, Yankee candle generates interest into a user to want to find out what exactly the scent smells like, whilst in truth has already defined the scent to the user even before they smell the candle- with the very name.

By ‘planting’ such information to the user results in the user being induced to combining the notion of the name to the smell, into the mind.

We feel for this, as we envisioned our users to be induced to our inviting installation in a tangible form which induces interaction. Then, with the emitted smell allows a point of reminiscence in the user.

Arte Povera

Untitled 1968 Jannis Kounellis born 1936 Purchased 1996 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07074

Literally termed ‘poor art’, Arte Povera is an art movement originated from Italy from the late 1960s to 1970s where artists created art through unconventional process and material.

The movement can be seen as a starting point for conceptual art.

Some notable art pieces are as follows:

From Surface to Surface 1971, remade 1986 Susumu Koshimizu born 1944 Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12822

Long Weekend 09: Robert Morris

Long Weekend 09: Robert Morris is a 2009 recreation of the interactive art designed by American artist Robert Morris in 1971. Robert Morris’s installation was prematurely closed due to safety concerns of the reaction of the audience. Long Weekend 09: Robert Morris shows an interactive exhibition which allows people to interact with platforms, rollers, tunnels and ramps.

(Watch video)

More to follow.

PDIV – |6-1 the form of smell

” SMELL. “


Heng Tong  x  Hong Sheng

Review of the comments from Exercise Sponge conducted the previous week

Exercise Sponge conducted during the previous week was a study of both material testing; as well as the collective data of absorbed smell at the various location within the premise of NTU.

We understand that the depiction of the form of smell is the ultimate aim of our project. We also know that the choice of material used will heavily dictate the final outcome, hence we conducted the study. Another important factor lies in the chosen site for placement of the final outcome. 

The study proved that within a short span of 40 hours, we were already able to use a readily found material in ‘magic sponge’ to have a collective data of smell. We uncovered the familiar scent of wet grass to ambiguous sniffs of faint. As such, we were able to open up questions and in such ignite conversations with our peers regarding what the smells were, which we feel really embodied our direction towards the aim of our outcome.

Moving forward…

Looking forward, we have some points to filter and confirm:

1. We want to set the main objective of our project. Whether our installation is to serve as a point that collects scent or to give off a scent.

2. We hope to source for a more sustainable material to fit the permanent installation.

3. Lastly, we also want to work with a feasible location in mind. 

Objective of Smell in a Permanent Installation

Smell is an olfactory trigger that is instantaneous and primitive, in beings. Smell is also the sense that is perceived and then acclimatised the quickest through sensory adaptation. Smell is usually the companying subset of the series of senses in a being. We find interest in the notion of smell, thus we took it on as the main theme of our project. Our aim for the final outcome is to curate smell within the premise of NTU as the strongest element of a permanent installation, such that people in NTU are able to remember the installation through the sense of smell.

As we looked upon curating smell in a permanent installation, we came upon 2 directions, both of distinctive differences – one is to formulate the smell within the NTU premise into a form that exudes a certain scent ; the other is to allow the smell of a certain vicinity of NTU to be absorbed into the installation. As such we stand at the crossroad of 2 distinctive different directions, we decided to weigh the pros and cons of each idea to have a clear diction to pick our chosen direction:

1. A permanent installation that gives off a distinct scent that embodies the school as a commentary.


* A resulting outcome will be interesting and distinct
* Creates an identity within a certain space
* Can be created through scent-giving material choice


* Time constraint for the study of NTU to formulate a distinct olfactory sense
* Use of scent-giving material does not tie into the theme of NTU for NTU students, but purely on the choice of material
* Dictating a universally-pleasing scent is difficult to muster as smell is subjective, not objective
* Maintainence of such permanent installation is not easy

2. To amplify the scent of smell through a permanent installation that absorbs smell within a vicinity.


*  Resulting outcome creates the identity of a certain vicinity of NTU through amplification of scent
* Uses scent that is amplified from scents already witihin a premise 
* Resulting outcome 'grows' with time, allows an element of surprise for students to uncover

* Smell absorbing materials sourced thus far are not sustainable
* May not be pleasant smelling scent, rather may result in a odour
* Maintanence easier compared to Idea 1

As we weigh the pros and cons, we are more inclined towards idea 2; thus have set our minds to concentrate on curating the allocated scent to be diffused into our proposed permanent installation.

Curating smell

Curating the absorbed smell, thus amplifying the smell is improbable, simply because the smell is formless. 

We began to look at forms that invite or suggest smelling. Some examples given by Ker Siang was to look at air freshener or perfume bottles forms, and how embalming/ taxidermy works to find possibly inspiration.

Use of weather-proof materials that also smell absorbent is not easy to source for, and we are currently still in the process of sourcing.

Alternatively, we would not want our choice of material to dictate the discovery of smell in the installation, yet it has to fulfil its task of absorbing smell whilst maintaining its sustainable feature.

One consideration is to have the people inside NTU to be able to interact with the installation, and through that process allow the diffusion of the smell of the people into the installation to be absorbed and in turn, amplified by diffusing the scent into the surrounding air.

As such, the installation will be able to absorb smell from the very people that interact with it. Perhaps, both I and Hong Sheng have constantly perceived the environment to be the factor of smell but it is instead the people, activities and that are happening within the environment that dictates the smell. 


Proposed Location

(view video link)


As we considered a suitable location for the placement of our installation, a chanced discovery of this particular location came to me and Hong Sheng.

In the video seen above depicts crowds of people walking through the sheltered walkway. Yet, all have failed to realise the spot that is designed and paved, right beside the walkway. 

We feel for that particular spot. We questioned the intention of having that spot designed and paved. We drew parallels of the ‘neglected’ spot with the sense of smell. The smell that is adapted to pave way for other senses. 

We feel that the location in a way shows similarity with the usage of smell as a sense, and we feel that the location embodied the sense of smell. As such, we view this as a potential location for our installation placement.

To be continued . . .

PDIV- |4 smell research

” SMELL. “


Heng Tong  x  Hong Sheng

As we reviewed the feedback from last week, idea 3 regarding smell-absorbing idea was the most interesting concept to develop. Thus, we took into consideration of smell-absorbing agents as our main topic for research.


Nasevo is the nickname given to Ernesto Ventos, a recognised perfumer and creator of scents. He has since presented books and artworks with regards to smell.

* Unfortunately since most of his published articles are in Spanish, we are unable to fully comprehend his points of view.


Smell Colour: chemistry, art and pedagogy by Ventos, Ernesto

Book published by Nasevo. Tells of the radical way of looking at art with regards to smell.

Book features works from all around the world, based upon the criteria of olfactory agent. Book showcases the notion of olfactory senses that can be classified as chemistry; and how it can exist in the world of perception.


Excerpts from the book

Javier Peñafiel (España, 1964)

(Natural greenery, chlorine, bleach)

Even if the person who provoked it disappears, the smell remains. 

Is desire provoked? Can democracy be provoked?


Mayte Vieta (El cebo, 2003)

(White flowers)

Invisible, it has the virtue of surprising, it appears when you least expect it, it incubates like the little buds of spring, like past times, faraway places, the reunion with a loved one, absenses, little particles in the air, it transports us back in time, unpredictable.


Bill Durgin (Cyc 9, 2007)


I have now begun to associate in my mind memories of the session when I took the photos with the memory of the smells given off by the various objects that accompanied the model. 


We also explored materials which actually absorb smells. We feel that the choice of material will play an important factor in creating our project. We found that carbon filter sponge, newspaper, peace lilies and sandalwood do take in smells to remove odours/filter air particles.

Carbon filter sponge

Carbon filter sponge is a material that we looked into previously.

Carbon filter is a material used in industry for purification and removal of contaminants in both air and water. It is a water-proof material that is also shapable.



The use of newspaper is an interesting choice of material that also absorbs smelling agents. In addition to being a smell-absorbant, the prints on the paper make the material visually interesting and malleable.

We, however, felt that the property of newspaper is not water-resistant and also could be a potential fire hazard, therefore, we will keep the use of newspaper as a material in view. 


In our research regarding natural air filters, we came across plants. In the report ‘NASA Clean Air Study’ published by NASA in 1989 is conducted to find out how plants improve air quality. The focus of the study looked at plants that thrive indoors in low-light conditions and actively remove pollutants from the air.

The peace lily is a plant that is considered the best natural air filter. The peace lily absorbs the pollutants from the air through the leaves before sending them down into the roots of the plant where the microbes in the soil will break down the pollutants; while providing moisture into the surrounding air.

We take particular interest in both the form and the natural air-filtering property of the peace lily.

Air Plants

Another interesting plant that we uncovered is the air plants that are mainly used in indoor spaces to clean the air by absorbing nutrients from the moisture and dirt fibres found drifting in the air.

In addition to their properties, we again take particular interest in their alienating form.


Through the vastly different projects taken from our research, smell as an olfactory agent can become the trigger to a certain memory. Yet that certain memory is subjective to each and every individual. This is an interesting point that we would want to look into to develop further.

We would like to create an exclusive olfactory trigger to any individual in NTU through our project. By creating a particular project that allows people to interact through the olfactory agent, in a way we are creating a ‘starting point’ of the experience of the NTU individuals.

We hope that our project can serve as a point of reminiscence for these individuals come the end of their journey in NTU, through the olfactory agent. As each individuals sense of smell is subjective, their memory experience will be in such a way exclusive.

Our main consideration is to use the olfactory agent as our primary element in our project, hence the outcome should remain ambiguous in the form. One inspiration that we gathered is the Visiona II by Verner Panton where the undulating organic forms, made from bright glossy materials, captured the imagination of a free-thinking society.

We hope to position our project in a place where many of the NTU people can congregate.*

* Points to consider, indoor or outdoor setting

To be continued.