Being an artist means revealing one's more vulnerable, deeply personal side. Part of it comes from the artist's need for self-expression. But this need is not completely selfish. Through the artist's experience and ability to translate emotions into their artistic medium, they are enabling their audience to process their own parallel or similar life experiences, relate to them and perhaps even work through emotions that are at times difficult to access, perhaps even acknowledge not to mention deal with.

An artist does that by highlighting their aesthetic aspects, no matter how painful they may be, and showing a larger perspective - such as the symbology of a tragic story. To actually live it or re-live it would be a nightmare. But to read it or watch it on the silver screen may allow us to safely laugh, cry, and re-emerge stronger and perhaps even more resilient.

Perfumery is an art form, although some may argue otherwise.  My own perfumes are a complete expression of an idea, memory or emotion. I pour my heart and soul into creating them, from concept to designing all aspects, including the imagery that may accompany it (such as the postcards I create especially for some of my perfumes), the story behind them or the "ad copy" if you will. And of course sourcing the materials carefully (sometimes growing, foraging and extracting them myself). So much of myself goes into every bottle - my energy and intention, as well as my own personal story. Because most of my perfumes are a chapter in my own life's story. As winding as it may be.

The last perfume I've launched was deeply personal, even more than the others. First of all, I made it for someone very close to me who have since disappeared. It was with a heavy heart that we had to part ways, and now he is lost to me. I was debating for the longest time if to launch this perfume or not. In hindsight, I feel this was a mistake. Because not only was it not well-received (which I can deal with,  but it was even ridiculed. Or at least the story that I shared about it on SmellyBlog was. I wasn't counting on this to be a blockbuster, but I did want to share my story and love the scent very much. And very few bothered to actually try it (because I guess my personal story, as interesting as it is to me, wasn't appealing to them).

For whatever that is worth, I wanted to share with you these feelings I have about launching new perfumes and pouring my heart here or encasing them in flacons for that matter. I feel that I grow more and more distant from the perfume as an "industry" and want to fully express my potential as a human, a scent-artist, and do it freely. It does require courage. But apparently right now I don't have that courage. I want to learn, create and share with those who appreciate it. I am no longer in that phase of life when I feel the urgency to prove myself or my talent; this desire has long been replaced by the need of authenticity in all that I do: research, teaching, incense and perfume making, as well as blogging.

Artistic Collaboration with Sanaz Mazinani - Exhibit Opens Today!

I'm excited to announce an unusual collaboration with visual artist Sanaz Mazinani, whose exhibit opens today and will feature other senses besides sight. There will be sound and smell as well, and I was chosen to create the latter. Below is more info about the show:  

Light Times
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 12, 2-5pm
Guided Tour of the Exhibition with Sanaz Mazinani: Saturday, January 12, 3pm
Exhibition Dates: January 12 – February 23, 2019

“Light Times” is Sanaz Mazinani's third solo exhibition at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto. It explores a technical history of photography in an effort to analyse visual language, perception, and the contemporary consumption of images. The studies depart from a set of unique light exposures on photosensitive paper which become the material subjects of each investigation. Throughout the exhibition, the camera-less photographs reappear across different media - unmade, reconstituted and recontextualized as sculpture, scent, sound, or technical print. These physical iterations come together to construct a consideration of the discipline's material capacity to register and document while drawing attention to new realities that form when the recorded information is aestheticised.

Mazinani’s source material is intentionally pre-image, inviting the viewer to focus on the photographic information in the form of simple abstractions made by the artist in the darkroom with light and photographic paper. Her manipulations, and those made in collaboration with technical experts, mimic the strategies of contemporary media circulation: redaction, decontextualisation, and repetition - processes with roots in photography. The works are process driven and utilise a range of methodologies and photographic tools from early photographic history to today. Further investigations offer poetic reflections on loss, time, event, and memory, core to the conceptual dimensions of photography.

“Light Times” looks at the transformation of the three dimensional into the photographic plane, while emphasizing visual shifts that occur through media specificity. The studies work to assemble a map of photographic language, highlighting the processes of photography and situating photograpically captured events, the documentation of the ephemeral/visible, as a relationship to reality created and constructed by the photographer.
Sanaz Mazinani collaborated with Mani Mazinani on Shift, a sound composition that will play from a vinyl record  on a turntable in the gallery formingthe sound component for this exhibition, the Shift LP will be released on Aerophone Recordings in late February. This sound piece addresses the shifts that take place in sight, memory and perception over time and space. Mazinani also worked with perfumer Ayala Moriel to create a unique fragrance ILLUME to conceptually respond to the unique photographic function of registration of light and its simultaneous loss of original meaning. The environmental fragrance ILLUME is a poetic response to the experience of the photographic moment and the function of time’s erasure of that original experience. Furthermore, the artist would like to acknowledge the work and creative labour of the other technicians and artists who used their craft to make a selection of the other pieces in this exhibition, namely Mary Hogan, Mike Robinson, Bob Carnie, Taimaz Moslemian, Noami Dodds, and Jacob Horwood.

An artist and educator, Sanaz Mazinani is based between San Francisco and Toronto. Her work explores how repetition and pattern make information legible, transform seeing into knowing, with the possibility of altering people’s worldview. Working across the disciplines of photography, social sculpture, and large-scale multimedia installations, Mazinani creates informational objects that invite a rethinking of how we see, suspending the viewer between observation and knowledge. Informed by the visual rhetoric and confounding presence of contemporary media circulation, her multidisciplinary practice aims to politicise the proliferation and distribution of images and introduce critical reflection. Mazinani’s works study forms of state control and consider how re-visualizing embedded power structures might interrupt them. In aestheticising informational systems, the artist attempts to contribute to a larger understanding of how conflicting realities are constructed and imagine the communicative possibilities of visual language.

Mazinani holds an undergraduate degree from Ontario College of Art & Design and a master’s degree in fine arts from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in solo exhibitions at institutions including the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the West Vancouver Museum. She has participated in worldwide exhibitions in institutions such as the Art Museum at the University of Toronto; the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge; the di Rosa Museum, Napa, California; the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt; and the Museum Bärengasse, Zürich. Mazinani’s artwork has been written about in Artforum, artnet News, Border Crossings, Canadian Art, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, among others. Her work was recently featured in Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World published by Phaidon. She was recently awarded the Zellerbach Family Foundation Grant and National Endowment for the Arts grant programs, and her work is held in public collections including the Canada Council Art Bank, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the San Francisco International Airport. She currently teaches in the photography department at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Additional information about ILLUME: 
Ambient fragrance designed to complement and complete “Light Times” - Sanaz Mazinani’s solo exhibition that explores the technical history of photography and its implication on this art form.

ILLUME sheds light on the concept through the sense of smell, which is subconsciously influential in our formation and retrieval of deeply rooted and emotionally charged memories. Being an environmental fragrance and part of an art show makes it public, perhaps even invasive, unlike the intimate and personal memories often elicited by perfume. Therefore, it was important to keep the scent simultaneously vague and familiar. It is immediately noticeable upon entering the space, yet not easily recognizable and identifiable. 
Wherever there is light, there is also shadow. ILLUME explores this interplay of light with the shadows it casts, both in our collective memories and personal ones. The scent is agreeable yet abstract, with disturbing elements hidden in the background. Its design draws on chemical and technical themes such as minerals and acids, to create a reference to the dark room. These dominant acidic and mineral notes are light and sharp, but are only a mask to conceal the dark secrets and hidden memories - embodied with wet, mushroomy woods and smokey notes. Taken outside of their context, these familiar, mundane smells loose their meaning, or perhaps take on a new shape and identity. 

The scent will be "played" during the exhibit and also sold as limited edition room spray for gallery patrons during the time of the show. 

Five by Bruno Fazzolari

What's most unique about Five by Bruno Fazzolari is its context, as part of an art show, featuring paintings of one non-representational space from four perspective. The fifth piece is the fragrance that bears the title of the show, Five. 
 I haven't seen the images in person, but Five brings a very cold yet lively feel. Cold wet white tinted with cobalt blue and with scratchy and fidgety brush strokes that tease with vibrant, almost-primary colours. Five feels like a flickering neon light of mint and lemon, yet keeps itself contained within a realm of rather woodsy entities.  

Five is a modern interpretation of the Eau de Cologne genre, bringing forth woodsy and mineral elements with the classical backdrop of citrus and herbs. The briskness of mint is mingled with orange, cedar and oakmoss. Copious amounts of jasmine-y hedione create airy space among all this brings to mind the iconic Eau Sauvage. It's overall character is more masculine than feminine, which makes one wish men would wear cologne more often when it's so sticky outside.

Top notes: Mint, Sweet Orange, Rosemary, Lemon
Heart notes: Jasmine, Hedione, Petitgrain
Base notes: Oakmoss, Musk, Cedar

Pain & Joy

"Pain travels side by side with joy and darkness is followed by dawn and another chance" (Judy Collins). 

It is true. The most joyful, blissful moments follow a rather painful experience. A great example is labour - followed by the greatest joy of all: the new life of your child. Likewise, the creative process can be a lengthy and agonizing one, not infrequently compared to giving birth - and ending in a creation that gives joy and healing to those who create it - as well as those who enjoy or experience the art, the audience.

Many of the greatest artists have suffered chronic pain (Frida Kahlo is a prime example, as she clearly focused her art on the subject of pain, both physical and emotional), mental illness (Vincent van Goh, Ludwig van Beethoven, and the list is loooong),  at times also followed by addictions (Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse), or some other kind of childhood illness or chronic disease that shaped their personality (Joni Mitchell, Hayyim Nahman Bialik) or a tragedy that made a mark on their life (Eric Clapton, Rudyard Kipling - both artists have lost their child) - and Judy Collins seems to have a taste of all... 

It is often debated - is perfume truly art? Is it a commodity? Considering that some of the greatest perfumes were created in response to the perfumer's own experience of pain, loss or unrequited love; or were inspired by such experiences of the designer that has commissioned them - I would argue that perhaps, after all, perfume is one of the greatest joys we can have - created through alchemical transformation.

Frida Kahlo - Self-portrait as wounded deer (1946) by petrus.agricola
Frida Kahlo - Self-portrait as wounded deer (1946), a photo by petrus.agricola on Flickr.

And what about ethics? Would the suffering of animals that were sacrificed in the process (i.e.: tortured civet cats, Canadian beavers hunted for their fur, sperm whales slaughtered for their blubber and ambergris, bees robbed from their honey and wax, and the extinct, massacred musk deer) be a contributing factor to the great beauty of perfume? This is perhaps digressing from the question, but from my experience, although the animal essences on their own reek of violence, fear and death - the result of adding a minute amount of this torture or death-extracts to a botanical perfume transforms it beyond imagination. 

This cycle of pain and joy is essential to our existence. Like breathing and sleeping, we need to learn to live with that and accept it, as we must accept the cycle of life and death, rejoice in every fleeting moment while we still live and breath, and cease the day to do what truly brings joy to us - because pain might strike at any moment. And we'll need to stock up on beautiful energy to go through it with dignity and compassion.

Clarimonde's Dream Pillow

Clarimonde Dream Pillow

If Halloween is the time when the veils are thin between reason and fantasy, between the conscious and unconscious, this story is a most timely one. Who hasn’t dreamt of bringing their loved one back – from the dead, or from the oblivion where most relationships find themselves once they are over? Clarimonde is one such story, in which love cannot be fulfilled because of the dramatic dichotomy and differences between the two lovers. Yet, somehow, they manage to reunite… Clarimonde returns from the place where non ever came back after her death which Romuald witnessed; and Romuald finds a way to be with Clarimonde in the safe world of his dreams, where everything is possible and no one can truly be held accountable for their actions.

I tend to shy away from vampire literature and cinema, finding them either too frightful for me (I’m just now, in my 13th year in Canada, finally getting used to the idea of skeletons and skulls and faux blood being OK and maybe even of some aesthetic interest…), and at best bring to mind the pathos of mail-order-bride spam from Russia that I receive on a daily basis.

Clarimonde Notes

However, when learning about the Clarimonde project that Lucy Raubertas of IndiePerfumes blog has initiated, I have first encountered a vampire story that was not frightening, but rather touching on a most personal level. Once completing the short story titled Clarimonde (by Theophile Gautier, which was published in 1836), I felt like it touched a nerve. It certainly helped that the vampire lady in it was not a blood-thirsty vixen, but rather a creature of light and beauty. There were no scary moments in the story to send chills down my spine either. And more important than what was not there that keeps me away from the vampire genre at large, was the depth of layers of meaning the story unfolded every time I read it again (and by now I read and listened to it 5 times…).

Clarimonde strongly resonated with me, thought at first I could not quite tell why or how, aside from its alarming resemblance to a virtual love affair, in which the subject of one’s love cannot quite be part of their everyday life; yet takes a bigger-then-life form in the internal world of the lovers. It is an intangible yet very real experience, which seems to become more and more prominent in our day and age and is something I have been exploring in my Virtual Lover project.

Clarimonde Sachets

To me, the story of Clarimonde is that of love and betrayal. It is a story of a woman’s love so strong and her beauty so powerful that it concurs a man’s most sacred values and aspirations and shakes him to his core. It is also a story of a woman’s sacrifice – her health, her life, her innate nature – only to make one man happy… And the man turns to be a very ungrateful one. It is a story of loss, spoiling of perfection (I do see the dual life that Romuald lived as a balanced and beautiful solution to his difficult position); ruining something that is precious and pure only because it does not fit with dogma.

Yet, despite of Clarimonde’s sacrifice and how she changes for him (instead of taking other lovers and sucking their blood as she pleases, she only takes a few drops of his while doing everything to not hurt him and heal his little tiny puncture of a wound); despite all that, Romuald refuses to stand up to dogma and see that her love is, indeed, as pure as God’s and it is that love that makes her not truly cast away from humanity or from the divine’s love. Just as he can’t find the power within himself to say no to the vows on the day of his ordination and change his path, he passively lets Abbe Serapion cast Clarimonde into oblivion…

It is also, as Mandy Aftel pointed out in the process of us creating and sharing the thoughts and feelings that the story brought forth, a story of extremes that seemingly do not reconcile. The man telling the story, a European monk, goes from the extreme of ugly, mundane and colourless life of suffering, service, sanctity and sacredness by day to that of love, beauty, pleasure, abundance, opulence, desire and rich hues by night. The only thing that connects these two worlds is his sleep. So I have decided to focus on that part and see how these two worlds connect through perfume.

Therefore, I have decided to create a dream pillow for this project, rather than a traditional perfume. Dream pillows are little flat pillows that are filled with a sachet of herbs that should invite a restful sleep. The pillow is tucked inside your real pillow, and while moving in your sleep, the herbs release their sweet scent and sweetens your dreams…

Clarimonde Herbs for Dream Pillow

It was a fine overcast day last Saturday, and I finally completed sewing 7 dream pillows inspired by Clarimonde... They are all filled with a sachet of dried herbs that should invoke a restful sleep: valerian roots, violet leaf, lavender buds, and some orris root, patchouli leaves and rose buds for their scent and evocative colour of blood and passion.

These herbs, however, are perfumed by what is my interpretation of the "Oriental perfume" that lingers in Clarimonde's death chamber in the 2nd physical encounter between the lovers, the only one that is fulfilled (the first one being his sight of her in his day of his ordination, in which he rejects her and chooses God; and the last one is at her tomb, which is very grim). In this one, his love and sadness for her loss brings her back to life even if just for a few moments, in which they kiss and embrace, and a bond is created that makes their life inseparable for as long as 3 years…

Tincturing Dragon's Blood

For the Clarimonde perfume, I decidedly chose essences that would build a classic and “typical” spicy-oriental; that which is heavy on the patchouli and eugenol (from cloves). But I also juxtaposed it with notes of flowers that are mentioned in the story: the blue violets in her hair, the red carnation of her lips, the white rose that symbolizes Clarimonde’s life at her chamber (it is not until the last petal falls that we know she is really, truly dead). These all took a life of their own as I read the story, with clear colours, textures and scents… The sensuality of Clarimonde is contrasted (and balanced) by the distance of her beauty and the coldness of her touch, which Raumald feels when she is alive at their first encounter at the church; and is no difference after her death. The story had very interesting palette of colours: mostly black and white, with splashes of colours on the appearance of Clarimonde, mostly of red and blue hues, and the blood is purple… There is only one thing that is yellow in the story: Clarimonde’s blond hair (or gold, as Romuald describes it).

Clarimonde Perfume Notes

So, I have chosen notes that are warm and spicy, such as vintage patchouli and vintage cloves, saffron and carnation to portray the warmth; and a violet accord to bring the cold, moist element to the perfume. Aside from violet leaf and cassie (both very wet and cold smelling essences), I have also used the velvety, candied-violet note of alpha ionone – and this is my first time to use a natural isolate in a perfume. I chose this note not only because I wanted the violets to have a dominant presence; but also because there is something very pure, clear and surreal about this note, which reminds me of Clarimonde’s voice as she speaks to Romuald for the first time in his dream.

Composing Clarimonde

I have included in my packages to the 6 writers covering the Clarimonde project, also a perfume that is unfinished and is what I used for scenting the Clarimonde dream pillow – except that it is in an alcohol form and with the addition of angelica, orris root and liatrix (which is present in the pillow, but not in the essences used to scent it). I’m debating if to add any lavender to the perfume; so far I like how bold and clear the perfume is, and how it’s such a strong characteristics oriental, but with the emphasis on violet, which normally is more prominent in prim floral bouquets and soft powdery concoctions.

To fully experience the power of this pillow, you must sleep on it, literally. Place it instide the pillowcase of the pillow you use while sleeping, and notice how it transforms your dreams making them more vivid and memorable.

Other Clarimonde posts from participating blogs:

The Clarimonde Project/& Sharif Give-Away

Clarimonde Part 2 - Vintage Perfumes and Heat for the Cold

Monica Miller's letter to Lucy about her Sangre perfume and perfumed lip stains

Perfume Pharmer Review of Clarimonde Dream Pillow

Lost Past Remembered – Deana Sidney: Recipe for a perfumed port with chocolate, ambergris and oud

Immortal Mine
Alexis Karl & Maria McElroy (Geisha M)

Scentless Sensibilities

Mandy Aftel's Oud Luban

Jade Dressler's blog

Scent Hive:
Part 1
Part 2 (Oud Luban, Immortal Mine)
Part 3 (Paradise Lost, Clarimonde Dream Pillow)

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