Unpacking the 3Package Deal: Laurent-David Garnier

Credit: Xander Remkes
May 16, 2017

This past year, we caught up with the fifteen eclectic, genre-bending participants of the 3Package Deal 2016 as they worked on their craft and prepared themselves for their final presentations in the wide-ranging fields of fashion, film, theatre, urban dance, social design and, in this case, visual arts.

This time, we joined artist and independent perfumer Laurent-David Garnier in his studio in Amsterdam-Oost, which set the stage for a conversation about the artist’s ongoing research and some of his previous works. Beyond the grasp of our senses, his works make the invisible, visible.

Though unassuming from the outside, Laurent-David Garnier’s studio is a treasure trove filled with steel tubes (fig. 1), iridescent material, silicones, giant magnets, a portrait of King Willem Alexander, an old Dutch ice-skating stick and an entire perfume laboratory. I’m having a hard time discerning what is art and what is not, which may be exactly Garnier’s point. Amsterdam seems to be treating him well. “This city makes things happen. I feel like I am allowed to play.”

A Plea for Playfulness

A sense of playfulness certainly pervades Garnier’s work: though strongly rooted in science, his mixed-media projects play with convention, experience, interaction, memory and uncertainty. A recent Sandberg Institute graduate, Garnier previously worked as a ‘nose’ for the biggest fragrance and flavour company. His extensive olfactory capacity was partially developed thanks to his father who, despite the protesting of his very young children, made them taste every food served on the table. Garnier feels toddlers should experiment as much as they can - another plea for playfulness, or as he puts it: “Being curious is part of your brain architecture. It’s important to stimulate that.”

Just listening to Garnier talk is watching his brain dance. Take his ‘cosmedibles’ (AN AUTUMN SHOT, 2016, fig. 2), tailor-made perfume formula shots infused with carefully deconstructed flavours offering a sensory and associative experience. The cocktails “do something inside which shows on the outside”; the numbing Sichuan pepper he allowed me to taste is like “a performance of the lips and tongue.” In a sense, the experience is choreographed, in the same way you can make an audience move in patterns in a room where everything has been taken out except for the invisible sculpture by the artist, which was diffused in the galerie space (BÛCHE, 2016).

The Alchemist

In his anechoic smell chambers (deprived of odour) presented at Ellen de Bruijne Projects (2015) and other works, Garnier operates at the level of single molecule detection. He likes “working at the nanoscale of elements”, playing with liminal detection dosages, leading to acceptance and rejection by the ‘viewer’. SMELL INTERVIEW (2014), for instance, was a series of interviews of people smelling pure molecules and sharing their thoughts, which were then recreated by a mime actor for video work GOLDFISH ON DRONES (2015, fig. 3). Among Garnier’s artworks are double mirror-image boxes of chiral molecules, kaleidoscopic tubes (EUNOE III, fig. 4) and a video on mixology (ALFALFA, 2016, fig. 7). More than a chemist, Garnier is a kind of alchemist in the sense that material transformation is key to his practice.

The Life of Loti

Parts of the 3Package Deal year are centered around Garnier’s long-term project on French naval officer, writer and all-round dandy Pierre Loti (born in 1850). The project started in 2009 during a two-week stay in Loti’s Rochefort house. Garnier: “He was a collector and curator of a special kind, trading in each city he went to. His entire house was just a big pool of smells.” Amidst worn garments, books and manuscripts, Garnier discovered 15 sarcophagi with mummified birds hidden behind the double bottom of a big wooden reliquary. He also found a sample bottle containing a residue of ‘Rose d’Amour’, a perfume tailor-made for Loti (1913), which Garnier painstakingly reconstructed. He presented part of his research in 2013, but is now taking his time. After all, it’s waited for him “for over 150 years.”

Garnier describes Loti as “interesting, and a totally queer figure”. The writer and naval captain would just as easily show up on a photographic postcard for his colleagues of the Academie Française almost completely naked. We’ll consider that another plea for playfulness.

About the 3Package Deal 

The 3Package Deal talent scheme - a collaboration between the AFK and Bureau Broedplaatsen (BBp) - assists and encourages exceptional young artists through affordable live/work spaces, a development budget of € 22.500 and professional encouragement from a coalition of renowned Amsterdam art institutions. Laurent-David Garnier is part of this year’s Visual Art II Coalition, with the Stedelijk Museum , the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten  and the Kunstverein.