Untitled (Smell of new)
The piece revolves around an air freshener that evokes the smell of recently produced or recently acquired objects. The objective is to trigger nostalgia in the viewer, making her remember when, for example, she bought a car, or sparking her desire to acquire something new. The piece was first presented as an installation, a kind of oilcloth canvas tent containing this “new” smell; later, for the reopening of the Museo Rufino Tamayo, the smell wafted out from holes in the museum wall, suffusing the entire space.
In the past, the phenomenon of “the new” resulted from the close relationship between form and function. Over time, “the new” was gradually transformed into a more subjective concept, in which we as individuals conceal an appearance of change even if it is a renovated appropriation of the past. Consumerism, radical changes in fashion, and multifunctional technology are unavoidable demands, although today the new is “the result of certain economical or cultural strategies on the transmutation of values,”1 as described by the critic Boris Groys. These values, whether real or symbolic, enable entry to and exit from innovation in a permanent state that is constantly renewed through seduc- tion, power, and social relationships.
The artist Fritzia Irizar is interested in power structures where hierarchies are hidden, symbolic values are exchanged, and the current economic reality is revealed. In 2006, she created an initial version of a piece called Smell of “New” in which she set up a white canvas cube, similar to those used in trade fairs. When viewers enter this provisional space, they perceive a smell of plastic, a scent that actually resulted from the production of toxic materials associated with the smell of a car fresh from the factory.
The image of a fair booth is an allegorical sign: such fairs accommodate a flow of commercial capital by means of representation. In these temporary kiosks, the potential exchange lies in the corporate image presenting an aura of innovation. The smell of “new” is also a gadget that seduces, at least for a few instants, an eager spectator’s sense of smell, even if it’s an artifice. Thus, Irizar questions the subjective values inherent in the notion of “the new,” criticiz- ing the power of desire through two different elements: the white cube and the smell of “new.”
In a second version for the exhibition First Act at the Museo Tamayo (2012), the artist dematerialized the piece and left only the smell, almost imperceptible, in the galleries. For one thing, the toxic, isolated scent that invisibly invaded the museum space acted as an echo of the collective anesthesia with respect to art. For another, the disappearance of the object itself served to question the image’s irrelevance through the transmutation of commercial and symbolic values. That is, beyond representing the idea of the new or seeking originality, the artist revealed the strategies and structures of a cultural system: one in which a manufactured, invisible smell demonstrates the dissemination of a simulacrum. The “smell of the new” is ultimately a parody of cultural inertia in its constant search for innovation although innovation itself is constant- ly evaporating, like any other smell.
1 Boris Groys, Sobre lo nuevo, ensayo de una economía cultural, Valencia, Pre- textos, 2005, p. 64.
The Seduction of the New