The artist-led walk expands upon the Carvalho’s work cataloguing smells and exploring their relationship to time, memory, and place. Our small group met up in Times Square, where she shared her “essence of nest” smell with us, spritzed on a small paper card. She encouraged us to block out the visual and auditory stimuli and “meditate on smell,” and what better place to do it than Flushing?
We rode the 7 train to the end of the line, and as we stepped outside to begin our smell journey, we all whiffed something unmistakablePopeye’s chicken. The group was a bit unsure how to begin, but Carvalho led the way, smelling payphones (urine), dried ginkgo (“a round smell, not dense”), and garbage (“not very good, but interesting”). The sprightly artist was hard to keep up with; she constantly ducked into bakeries and dumpling shops for a quick smell with the group in tow, much to the confusion of shopkeepers.
It was one of the most recent walks produced by Elastic City, a non-profit organization that conducts artist walks and more recently, “ways,” where participants learn to engage with each other to create poetic moments. As we walked through the fish market, founder Todd Shalom chatted with me about the project; he kept his face buried in a red rose from earlier in the walk, choosing not to contemplate the smell of mackerel. Elastic City began as an extension of Shalom’s own artistic practice, eventually expanding to include walks led by artists who work in a variety of disciplines. Walks can focus on anything from smell to sound to necessity Shalom led a walk last year where he would go wherever the participants needed to go.
Along the way, we lost several group members to the smell; the fresh dumplings were too much to resist. We stopped in candy stores, spice markets, Petland, and McDonald’s, where the fry smell triggered waves of childhood nostalgia. At each stop the artist worked her way through the group, urging participants to visualize the smell, “what does this make you think of?” To conclude the walk, we sat down for a Malaysian meal and took a minute to bottle the “essence of Flushing.”
Carvalho has over one thousand bottled smells saved in her studio from other walks and exhibitions. For her Diary of Smells at the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro, Carvalho invited the public to take an empty perfume bottle home and return it filled with the visual representation of a cherished smell. Although most participants stuck to the visual, one woman took the task quite literally and filled the bottle with a sample of the soup that her mother used to make. Carvalho has not opened it, but mused that it, “probably does not smell so good now.”
As we contemplated what to put in our bottles, one woman passed hers around the table and commanded that we all breathe into it. She labelled it, “Eight People’s Breath After Eating Malaysian Food.”
Check out Elastic City’s website for a schedule of their upcoming walks. In late August, founder Todd Shalom himself will run a nighttime walk in Prospect Park titled Fabstractions (lights will be provided).