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  • Nose-first: practices of smellwalking and smellscape mapping

McLean, Katherine Jane, 2019, Thesis, Nose-first: practices of smellwalking and smellscape mapping PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis examines qualitatively-perceived spatial and temporal
characteristics of the olfactory landscape, hereafter known as the
smellscape, through mapping practices. Human olfactory perception
contributes to our understanding of the world; people delight in localised
scents. Slight whiffs can enable pre-visualisation of a forthcoming activity,
serve as a summary synthesis of previously-witnessed events and have
the capacity to evoke situated memories. However, the smellscape is
in constant flux and ephemeral, volatile smells are easy to ignore when
experienced by ordinary people in everyday, urban environments. The
apparent invisibility of smell as a physical entity, and as a social construct,
in the prevailing sensory order has led scholars to call for further studies in
how smellscapes may be detected, recorded and shared.
This interdisciplinary, practice-based, communication design
research responds to debates in olfactory art and urbanism that highlight
the challenges inherent in obtaining and sharing a vast, ephemeral
and eye-invisible sensory dataset. Concerned with representation and
communication of the smellscape as theorised by J. Douglas Porteous
and activated by Victoria Henshaw, the research explores how social
performative mapping might contribute to communication of non-visual
sensory olfactory information. In so doing it tests existing theories to build a
deeper understanding of the smellscape.
The thesis is divided into six chapters and includes two case
studies situated in Singapore and Kyiv. Through iteration I test the smellwalk
as a data-collection and mapping activity and investigate and record the spatial and temporal qualities of smell within contemporary, quotidian, urban
environments. Drawing on interdisciplinary methods, sensewalking, agentic
mapping, rhythmanalysis and creative practice, I develop and apply original
approaches to practices of smellscape mapping as a means of analysing,
interpreting and communicating a theorised fragmentary and episodic
olfactory landscape.
The findings include a model of dimensional olfactory space,
durational differences in smells between mornings and evenings in single
locations, multi-scalar temporalities of a city, polyrhythmic relationships
between the situated human body and a range of smells, and a series of
projective mappings that render visible olfactory-sensed information. My
original contribution to knowledge includes mapping strategies to examine
relationships between smells and space, smells and place, smells and time,
and smells and people. By providing cohesive approaches and procedures
for smell detection and collection, together with symbol sets and processes
for the representation of human-experienced smells, I establish practices
of smellwalking and smellscape mapping as platforms for conceptualising
and sharing the complexity of human-sensed olfactory perception. These
practices might be utilised by communication designers, geographers,
environmentalists, architects, urban designers, city authorities and arts
organisations interested in visualising and communicating situated, human,
sensory experience. The work contributes to the nascent field of sensory
communication design.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K400 Planning (Urban > K440 Urban studies
Other > Social studies > L700 Human and Social Geography
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Communication
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2019 15:02
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2019 11:14
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3945

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