PODCAST | Desire and Alchemy in a Beeston Basement

Some artists paint, others sculpt – Sheffield’s MICHAEL BORKOWSKY describes himself as a ‘fine art perfumer’. He’s currently exhibiting DESIRE AND ALCHEMY at Beeston’s BASEMENT ARTS PROJECT in a joint show with Italian performance artist EMILIA TELESE. We sent RICHARD HORSMAN to sniff out the story

The eyes have it. Visual art is everywhere, static and moving images in analogue and digital forms. Many galleries stage sound installations; remember the waves crashing across Victoria Gardens from speakers mounted on the Henry Moore Institute? Some sculpture just cries out to be touched, and plenty of chefs at least claim to be artists of the palate, if not of the palette.

In this multi-sensory world scents, at least in isolation, are often neglected. Not least because of the difficulty in actually presenting the artwork to an audience. Which is a shame, because our sense of smell is hard wired to our emotions.

A whiff of Izal disinfectant, and I’m back in the nursery. A particular brand of floor polish evokes all the hopes and fears of starting primary school. Honeysuckle will forever mean a first kiss in the long, hot summer of ’76, and there’s the smell on opening the door after returning from trips abroad that will always mean home.

Michael Borkowsky is well aware of the ability of scents to trigger feelings. His Perfume as Practice exhibitions showcase what he describes as perfume portraits; impressions of personality captured in the intermingling of head, heart and body notes within a concoction of essential oils, spices and fragrance-imbued spirits.

What you actually find at the show, currently taking up one half of the Basement Arts Project exhibition space just off Dewsbury Road, is an antique table on which are displayed thirteen bottles, along with a flask of paper spills. The visitor dips a spill in each bottle to sample a little of each fragrance, guided by comprehensive notes on a handout.

The other half of the space is given over to an installation by an Italian-born performance artist who also puts scent at the heart of her practice. But Emilia Telese integrates the visual.

The day I saw the show, she gave a guided tour of the installation via Skype from her home in Iceland – whilst dressed as a teenage American majorette. Hold on to your hats (and your batons), it gets weirder.

Her installation is effectively a cube with one side missing. The floor, ceiling and three sides are covered with different wallpapers, each bearing her repeated image. The papers are glazed with the scents she’s created .. and visitors are literally invited to scratch and sniff the various surfaces to experience the aromas.

One wall features a smiling Emilia in the majorette costume, evoking youth and optimism, with associated scents of citrus. Another features Emilia as a seventies hippy, her outfit lifted straight from an Abba music video. That wall’s strong on patchouli. You get the idea. The corners where the panels come together are laced with earthier aromas, including sweat and -er- semen.

Michael and Emilia also have worked together to create three perfumes specially for the show, designed to illustrate the past, present and future of perfume and society.

Michael says the latest collection on display here goes beyond his earlier work. Rather than portraits of individuals, he told me the current collection aims to explore the reasons why artists make art, revealing the capacity perfume has for socially engaged creative action:


You’ve got a week left to experience Desire and Alchemy at the Basement Arts Project

The show is open by appointment until Monday 19 November at 28 Back Burton Terrace, Beeston, Leeds, LS11 5JH. To arrange a visit call 0750 672 1504 or email Bruce Davies at basementartsproject@gmail.com


Photography: Robert P. Clarke