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Sense of Smell in Lausanne

There's something in the air at a museum in the Swiss city of Lausanne: You can neither see nor touch it, and you can either love it or find it repulsive.

This content was published on July 23, 1999 - 16:37

There's something in the air at a museum in the Swiss city of Lausanne: You can neither see nor touch it, and you can either love it or find it repulsive.

The exhibition explores the sense of smell in various ways -- for example, its association with sound. You can pick up a telephone, hear the sound of people in a public swimming pool...and the telephone emits the smell of chlorine.

Then there's the colour of smell. Visitors are invited to take a sniff at the brightly-coloured contents of four jars -- red, green, orange and yellow.

Each one seems to smell different, but it's an olfactory illusion. They are in fact all the same, the visitor having been misled by colour association.

This interactive exhibition traces the route to Europe of various aromatic spices since the Middle Ages, the appeal of flowers and what goes into the making of perfume. It also invites you to identify wines not by their taste but by their smell.

Take a close look at a picture of Dracula about to sink his fangs into a victim, and you can smell that defence against vampires -- garlic.

Another photograph of a shark under the ocean surface has a salty whiff about it.

The exhibition is in one of Switzerland's most unusual museums, the Museum of the Hand.

Its curator Ninian Hubert van Blyenburgh sees nothing strange in the subject matter: "Why not have an exhibition on smells here?" he asks. "It's a neglected sense, just like the sense of touch, as we demonstrate in the museum's hand section."

The Sense of Smell exhibition ends on August 22.


Written by SRI staff

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