Game Box and Scentscape

2 interactive olfactory artworks by Nathan Cohen and Reiko Kubota exhibited at the Shoyeido Gallery, Kyoto (March 2019)

Authors: Nathan Cohen and Reiko Kubota 

Scentscape  (2019)

Scentscape (2019)

Narrative has come to play a significant role in how we, as artists, have interpreted the Kakenhi funded research project: 'Creating the comfortable space and raising up the quality of the life for the aged, including dementia patients, by using familiar and melancholic smell in their lives.' 

As this project has proceeded we have evolved our research through an iterative process of experimentation and feedback from audience interaction. Over the 3 years the project has run (2016 - 2019) we have created artefacts that encourage memory association through smell and combined stimuli (haptic, visual). For each of the 4 exhibitions we have created new pieces that build upon the observations of earlier iterations. We are also creating interactive artefacts that are personal and intimate to the user toward enhancing well being. We do not claim our approach is scientific but the creation of our artworks and artefacts is based on a range of experiences and sources†. 

We are speculating that some smells may have natsukashii (nostalgic) qualities that are more commonly shared by people in the memories they may invoke. This can be triggered by a particular scent, or a collection of scents and these experiences can be profound, sometimes reaching back to our early childhood. We are also interested in how smelling particular scents can evoke memories and transcend the passage of time. 

Shoyeido Gallery, Kyoto - installation including  Scentscape, Game Box and Memory Box

Shoyeido Gallery, Kyoto - installation including Scentscape, Game Box and Memory Box

Game Box includes an adaptation of a French board game that has been popular for centuries, where players compete to complete a circuit of the board and arrive first at the destination. A Japanese version of this is called 'Suguroku'. In our game players land on different symbols, a number of which depict images of natural botanical scent sources that are complemented by samples in the box. To proceed in that round a player must correctly identify what the scent sample is. This plays on recognition of scents and the notion of making a journey, and includes the element of play, each of which require actions that stimulate memory and can be shared between people. Playing games is also associated with childhood and we speculate could stimulate natsukashii feelings.

Interaction with  Gamebox

Interaction with Gamebox

Scentscape incorporates digital technology that links pairs of scent samples with series of scrolling images relating particular narratives of experiences and places visited. As a scent sample is picked up so the set of images it relates to displays on the video screen in the box. The box also contains small objects that relate to each of the 3 sets of imagery. This can be personalised so that the scents included and their associated images are particular to an individual's memories and associations. The intention is to provide an engaging user experience that will stimulate natsukashii feelings that they can also share with others. (Another version of Scentscape links particular scent samples to interactive moving imagery and sound.)

Image 6      Scentscape - detail showing box contents

Image 6 Scentscape -detail showing box contents

Image 8 Interaction with  Scentscape

Image 8 Interaction with Scentscape

For the final exhibition in Kyoto (March 2019) we created two artefacts that develop the themes of the earlier artworks, exploring different approaches to smell, narrative and interaction. Both artefacts develop the box design concept we originally conceived with the earlier Memory Box, although the arrangement of the contents and means of interaction encourage different responses. The boxes used for these pieces are antique, imparting a sense of time past. They also recall our own childhood experiences of collecting where we each had a special box in which to contain those things we found most precious (shells, rocks and minerals, fossils, coins, buttons, feathers, and many other found and received bits and pieces).

Game Box (2019)

Game Box(2019)

Gamebox (2019)

Scentscape - detail video display in box lid

Scentscape- detail video display in box lid

Scentscape (2019)

Through the evolution of all of the artworks and designs created for this project we have travelled a journey of discovery that has informed the development of our work over time. We feel that we are now poised to be able to render these olfactory artefacts in a form that could be more universally applied. This will form the basis for the next stage in our research, to create a practical and aesthetically enjoyable design for the delivery of scent samples that can induce natsukashii sentiments and memory recollection to enhance well being for a range of users, including the elderly and those with neurocognitive disorders.

This text is partly extracted from the paper 'Creating Olfactory Narratives as Natsukashii Experiences' presented by Nathan Cohen at the symposium titled 昔の人の袖の香ぞする- 匂い・記憶・創造 (Is not this scent natsukashii? - Scent, Memory, Creativity) at the Shoyeido, Karani Hall, Kyoto, Japan (23.03.2019).

A naturalistic study of autobiographical memories evoked by olfactory and visual cues: Testing the Proustian hypothesis, Herz, R.S., Schooler, J. W., The American Journal of Psychology (Spring 2002, Vol. 115, No. 1, pp. 21–32) 

Scent-evoked nostalgia, Reid C.A.,Green J. D.,Wildschut T.,Sedikides C., Memory (January 2014)

Reaction time and various verbal responses to nostalgic odors, Akiyama, M., Kobayakawa, T., Kobayashi, T. 日本味と匂学会第48 回大会2014

Odors arousing affections of the nostalgia to the aged Japanese, Tanigawara, C., Watanabe. K., Satoh, S., Saito, S., Aayabe, S., Oda, M. & S.: 人間工学1994 Vol.30, No.1

†The following is a short selection of sources that we have found to be helpful in our research and offers additional reading into the psychology of smell.

Olfactory memory networks: from emotional learning to social behaviours. Sullivan, R.M., Wilson, D.A., Ravel, N., Mouly, A-M., Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience (17 February 2015): 

The Neuropsychology of Smell and Taste, Martin, G. Neil: Routledge - Psychology Press 2013. ISBN: 978-1-84872-100-5

Olfaction and the Brain, Ed.: Brewer, W. J., Castle, D., Pantelis, C. : Cambridge University Press 2006  ISBN: 9780521849227