The Proust effect is a phenomenon that draws its name from Swann’s Way, the first book of In Search of Lost Time. It describes the ability of our senses to access and activate memories long suppressed. With the exhibition “Es-senze,” curator Pier Paolo Pancotto attempts to unleash the power of smell—perhaps the most abstract and enigmatic of the senses—with the help of twelve international artists, including Giuseppe Penone, Bruna Esposito, Jason Dodge, and Nico Vascellari.
Circling through the rooms of the second floor of the Palazzo Mocenigo, the exhibition path opens and closes with Fedele Azari’s manifesto La flora futurista (Futurist Flora, 1924), whose display includes a bottle of Petroleum Flower, a futurist fragrance conceived by the master perfumer Gaël Montero. Works by Mateusz Choróbski and Achraf Touloub play with the evocative mystery of scent, as does Eva Marisaldi’s Dialogo (Dialogue), 1996–2022, which directly associates eucalyptus vapors with the memory of the childhood visits the artist would make with her grandmother to the Certosa Cemetery in Bologna. Mircea Cantor and Paola Pivi look to smell as an allegory of precariousness with the help of olfactorily charged objects, including an oyster shell, a bamboo pyramid, and a miniature sofa. With New Positive (head), 2022, Namsal Siedlecki fills the overturned cast of a bust with a salted solution that recalls the stagnant odor of the Venetian lagoon. When it evaporates, this liquid will leave behind traces of salt crystals.
As the exhibition progresses, the visual elements grow less prominent. In Luca Vitone’s Imperium, 2014, the room contains only scent. Initially pleasant, the fragrance gradually, over the course of the visit, degenerates into something nauseating.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
— Marta Silvi