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Two Centuries of Stink: Smell Mapping Widnes Past and Present

McLean, Kate and French, Jade (2023) Two Centuries of Stink: Smell Mapping Widnes Past and Present. In: Consuming Atmospheres. Routledge Studies in Marketing . Routledge, United Kingdom. ISBN 978-1-03-226492-9. E-ISBN 978-1-00-328851-0. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:95997)

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The towns in Northern Britain were the location for many of the world’s first chemical factories where chemical manufacturing flourished for over 170 years. Widnes in Cheshire was a key location for this thriving industry that pioneered new base chemicals which were transformed into textile dyes, glass and soap: materials which have come to define the industrial era. This period in British history is captured within Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Museum.

Yet, while many have praised the innovation of the chemical industry, there was a considerable downside to this industry: atmospheric pollution. Today, Widnes has an enduring reputation as ‘smelly’, ‘dirty’ and undesirable place to live – described as the ‘dustbin of the North West’, no doubt an enduring legacy from times past. Thus, in 2019 with support from Arts Council England, Catalyst invited olfactory artist Kate McLean to work with their collection and local community. The project ‘Two Centuries of Stink: Smell Mapping Widnes Past and Present’ explores how a chemical museum can utilise olfactory art to promote a deeper understanding of we experience the landscape through our noses, the smellscape through which local communities encountered, and continue to encounter the world around them.

Since French physician Jean-Noël Hallé and his assistant Boncerf conducted the first recorded smellwalk in 1789 attesting to the paradox that smell is both an animal sense, and a sense of self-preservation that serves as a warning against poisonous substances it is important to recognise the role of smell to people in places where they cannot escape the odours around them (Corbin, 1994).

To achieve this, we collected alternative atmospheric experiences of landscape via smell data from the local community by inviting people to share and map their ‘smell memories’ of Widnes. These combined data sets were used to create an exhibition in the museum. In this chapter we share project findings, assess the curatorial and design decisions involved in generating an understanding of malodourous atmospheres and propose the concept of olfactory palimpsest.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: smell, odour, olfactory, heritage, smellmap, smellwalk, palimpsest
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
N Visual Arts > NC Drawing. Design. Illustration
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > Kent School of Architecture and Planning
Depositing User: Kate McLean
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2022 08:50 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2023 14:56 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
McLean, Kate:
French, Jade:
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