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When the Helsinki City Museum asked its customer panel in March 2015 what Helsinki smells like, it received more than 200 smell memories in response. These responses form the basis of the new exhibition Smell, which takes over the fourth floor of the museum on Friday.
Unlike other senses, information collected as smells by the nose goes directly to the most primitive part of the brain, the emotion and memory center. A passing smell sensation may take you instantly back through the years or trigger a riot of emotions. People sense and interpret smells in different ways. Scents also have a subconscious effect and power over people’s everyday life – over choosing a partner, for instance.
The respondents described, for instance, the scent of coffee wafting from the roastery in Vallila, the aroma of asphalt on a sweltering day, wet parks in the spring, the reek of urine near the railway station as well as the smell of exhaust gas and sand on the streets in the suburbs.
The leading role is played by a Helsinki-related scent, changing weekly throughout the autumn and the winter. “We won’t reveal in advance what the scent in the space refers to as we want visitors to be able to form associations as freely as possible,” said Sauli Seppälä, the producer of the exhibition, in a bulletin.
In Smell’s calming environment, urban stimuli are absent. When one sense is emphasized and other senses play a smaller role, there is room for thoughts emerging from your mind. Lighting designed by Kristian Palmu highlights the atmosphere of concentration and the open space in which you can focus on associations inspired by your sense of smell – very different associations for different people. The scents have been designed Max Perttula, “Finland’s only perfumer”.
During Smell, the museum collects smell memories as well as emotions evoked by the smells in the exhibition space. In the autumn and winter, the museum also features a great deal of theme-related programs, including A Scent Dates in October, an event for finding a partner on the basis of a person’s characteristic smell.
The Helsinki City Museum, Aleksanterinkatu 16