What do cities smell / sound of?

Posted by metamatic:taf_editor 6.11.2015

tags: blogging

Marcin Knyziak_by Dimitris Polymenopoulos

Sound Development is an independent cultural initiative based in Zurich. It constitutes a platform for promotion of, networking of and exchange between artistic and cultural creators. It realizes its promotional efforts based on projects, as in-house or co-productions.

Sound Development City is a project financed by Sound Development, initiated in 2012 with the aim of providing a creative, process-oriented space for work and experimentation to like-minded artists from different geographical, cultural and artistic backgrounds. Every year, Sound Development City goes on a three-week long journey between two European cities with a group of international artists.

Recently, Sound Development City travelled to Athens amongst other for an exceptionally inspiring smellWALK, guided by the artist Klara Ravat as part of her project smellSCAPES. metamatic:taf had the pleasure to discuss with Gianmarco Marchetta (Sound Development) and Klara Ravat (project participating artist from Spain), about their artistic and research journeys.

What is the mission of Sound Development and the motivation behind its creation?

(GM): It is our objective to inspire and support artists through practical experiences as well as to provide knowledge and contacts.

For example, through the experimental format of Sound Development City, we aim to give artists the opportunity to realize trans-disciplinary projects. For Sound Development, personal encounters and collaborative work play a key role in developing new ideas – away from academic or institutional settings, Sound Development offers open space to let the unexpected happen and encourage a “culture in the open”. We see Sound Development City as an adventure, a place for experimentation, and a research lab which offers a productive environment for exchange and collaboration. The artist expedition sets off into foreign urban and cultural spaces, in order to strike new paths and break new ground. Here, work theses can be examined, new project ideas or forms of expression can be tried out and bold visions can be put into practice. All this, without having the pressure to conclude with a finished product.

Based on which criteria do you select the participating artists for the projects you develop?

(GM): This depends very much on the project and its format. For the artist expedition project Sound Development City (a kind of research residency on the road) we spread out internationally an invitation to tender and then a jury which includes also people from the cities we will visit with the project, make a selection of about ten artists. We keep a strong eye on the projects with which the artists apply as we want to keep a broad variety of art disciplines as well as how they can interact with the cities and their inhabitants we visit.

For other projects like Music Apartment or LofiDogma we select the artists more subjectively from what is on our surrounding radar.

We focus on interdisciplinary arts and artists with a freethinking but clear and ‘like-minded’ vision and we generally prefer projects which are easily accessible and are not too intellectually layered.

What is the experience gained through the project smellSCAPES taking place this year in Belgrade and Athens? Which elements were the sources of inspiration and how do you define an “unfamiliar setting?”

(KR): The experiences gained through the project smellSCAPES have been many, diverse and intense. The most obvious one, maybe, is the ability to move around a new city and start your research without considerateness.

Somehow, during the process of the project, within the three weeks of expedition I had to develop further my critical thinking. The days pass by so quickly and there is so much you want to achieve, which leads you to a deeper digging. You have to leave behind any superficial idea, move beyond it and process all those abstract thought as fast as you can. However, always trying to find a good match between harmony and time, letting things come to you and being open to don't let all the inputs and insights from the cities and your ideas fly away. For example, during the first days in Belgrade I reconnected quickly to one of the recurrent topics in my works, the human being. I was out in the street thinking that smellSCAPES would be a project only about objects, about the urban environment and structure, but, of course, there are also habitants in all those streets! So my attention was drag quickly into humanized details. I was smelling the pavements, walls, bins, lights and then I smelled that railway in a stairs which people climbs to access the Market. All those hands helping themselves where leaving a trace! I could smell different peoples scents. All these findings reshaped my project in situ.    

Not only the experiences gained had been directly related to the development of the project but also to networking. The team connect me to locals which would participate in the smellwalks, at the same time the local people would help me to contextualize my-self in the city, tough how things work and got a chance to ask things about the art scene. We would also get to know different art spaces in each city and that way I got connected to people who is also interested in the sense of smell and film.

Last but not least, I mastered my distilling techniques (and there is still a long way to go!). Almost at the end of every day I'd spent some hours distilling some of the findings during my wandering in the city. These Wanderings were one of the biggest elements of inspiration in my project. While walking around the city's streets, parks, neighborhoods I discovered many fragrances. And I shouldn't forget to mention all the individuals I communicated with. In Athens was very easy to exchange thoughts with anybody. One morning I was sitting under a kids slide waiting the rain to stop at Navarinou Park. My intention of the day was to discover how Exarcheia smells. I was interested in the area because of its political background. Anyhow, I was approached by two guys, Jorge and John, who happened to be researchers, we went for a lunch and form one thing to another, I ended up at Nosotros, the anarchistic community center, listening to an assembly. All those, at first glance, unrelated event, gave me lots of inspiration to work.

An unfamiliar setting would be a place where you are not used to be. A setting you are not familiar with, because you don't recognize its daily movements, sounds and scents. An unfamiliar setting doesn't need to mean that you have never been there before, merely that you haven't developed the same activities in the same context earlier.

So what does Athens smell of?

(KR): This is always a tricky question. SmellSCAPES helped me to realize that wanting to trace the scents of a whole city is almost impossible. Scent is so volatile and ephemeral that each day, hour, minute or even second your perception of the urban scents will change. Not to mention our cultural perceptual differences: it really depends on your interests that you will focus your nose in specific areas, objects or things.

Although, if I had to describe Athens scents I will start by saying that the streets themselves smell strongly. In Athens I changed the group smellwalk for one-to-one intimate walks. So in the first walk, the participant and I realized that the air is coming so loaded with aromas that it was hard to focus in single objects. By instance, the streets over Monastiraki are so rich. You only need to pass by to notice all those spices aromas coming from the old shops: cinnamon, lavender, chamomile, thyme, chili... Or walk through Athinas street, first polluted, but full of natural soaps and the fish market! How could someone possibly describe all those scents together?

Interview with Klara talking on the SDC artist-expedition as well as about her project


Discover more:




klara - ravat smell walk

Narda Alvarado presentation by Dimitris Polymenopoulos

Expedition Discoveries_by Dimitris Polymenopoulos

Greiling & Ulber_by Dimitris Polymenopoulos

Rowan de Freitas_by Dimitris Polymenopoulos

tags: blogging