I got up at this time as I was due to attend a talk on perfume at John Moores University, which strangely doesn't have an apostrophe. I infer that this is because the university is merely named after the distinguished businessman in question who founded the Littlewoods retail chain and football pools, rather than being in any way 'possessed' by him.
I travelled on a pleasingly fast train to Liverpool operated by Avanti, which it took me till mid-afternoon to realise is the company who took over from Virgin the other week. It only stopped at Runcorn, and then sadly at the railway station, not half way across the famous wrought iron bridge so I could have taken a better picture. The bridge has several names, including 'Ethelfleda', which is so good I wish I at least had a chicken to call it after. Next week's (albeit dead) turkey may briefly acquire this moniker instead...
Now don't laugh, but I brought my A-Z of Liverpool with me, which dates from 1990, the year when I stayed at the Adelphi Hotel (of Onedin Line fame) and had the use of a company 'pool' mobile phone the size of a brick. I'll be honest, I navigated in the end using a combination of helpful tourist signage and the blue dot on Google maps, but it felt good to have the A-Z as back up. A bit like shopping with a wicker basket.
I arrived at Albert Dock a little early, and took a quick snap of this doughnut van with its transatlantic spelling and tempting offer of candyfloss and 'slush'. That's what you get I expect if you drop your candyfloss in the Mersey. Parked a little further on was a double decker London bus offering tea and coffee; an old telephone box next to it had been repurposed as a milk and sugar station. You don't get that sort of vintage charm in Starbucks, even if they do offer milk in different fat percentages.
The talk was held upstairs at Tate Liverpool, in a section of a big gallery space screened off by a curtain - not all the way, mind, so at various points during proceedings other visitors threw us a quizzical look as they were passing in their search for Dali's Lobster Telephone. I say 'search', as I am not sure that any of the 11 lobsters Dali made is in Liverpool anymore. My mobile phone from 1990 was not far off in size if not shape, now I think of it.
The structure remained in place for 18 months, and miraculously didn't get 'tagged' in all that time by graffiti artists, which Mike attributed to his 'inclusive' use of cursive writing, which looked a bit like graffiti to start with. He adopted a similar approach on a project for Dong Energy, a Danish company which installed 32 wind turbines in Liverpool Bay, and his billboard with the caption "This Beautiful Place" was similarly left intact. Regular readers may recall that I am a big fan of wind farms, having done a project on glue in California, some of which is used to fix rattling nacelles, as the big 'gubbins housings' at the top are called.
To seal his credentials, Mike mentioned that he had in fact swum the Mersey, which impressed us all no end. So by this point I was definitely sold on Mike's handwriting and level of fitness, and we moved onto the key premise of his event, namely a "proposition of multi-sensory experience in Art":
"We experience drawing in the same way that smell can provide a trigger for memory and sensation. Scent invites us to recount and create new stories, sharing and revealing layers of experience."
After romping through a few surprise facts about our sense of smell, including the one about it remaining when we are asleep (something the ex-firefighter in our group was able to confirm!), Mike presented us with a selection of evocative quotes about perfume from literature. One, from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, featured bitter almonds reminding a character in the book of the fate of unrequited love. It was a great quote, and reminded me in turn of my happily morbid teenage years engrossed in Agatha Christie novels, where death by the chemically closely related cyanide was a go-to MO. But better still, we also learnt that Mike had been commissioned to do a portrait of Marquez, whom he decided to dress as a fish, in a nod to another work by the author, in case you were wondering(!).
Mike also showed us a book he had had published on Perfume and Drawing: it comprised a series of portraits of ladies - mostly but not exclusively his niece, I think? - juxtaposed with a list of perfumes containing a particular fragrance material, followed by a literary quote. At this point Mike disclosed that A Portrait of a Lady, or PoaL as it is commonly known in the blogosphere, was his all-time favourite perfume! This happens to be the favourite of Val the Cookie Queen, who has kept me supplied with both PoaL and CdR. I have an abiding memory of Val lavishly applying PoaL in an underground car park in Augsburg, before we went into a Monochrome Set gig at a nearby club. So I guess I have a memory link between that fragrance and music and perfume friends. And although I am not sure it works on me, I am a big admirer of PoaL, which I first smelt not on skin, but sprayed on Katie Puckrik's pashmina, which she was using as the garment equivalent of a room diffuser. Another strong memory, this time linking the scent to perfume friends - and fabric!
Mike went on to tell us about workshops he had run with his art students, giving them perfumes to smell blind and seeing how they reacted and what specific associations they had with the scents. (He is a big pusher of perfume / evangelist, and I salute him for it.) We did a bit of that too and the reactions from our group to the perfume Mike had selected were all over the map, and not uniformly positive. One lady was reminded of the dentist, another had no particular associations but didn't care for it, while I could pick up fruity notes, but ones that had been spoilt or muddied by something indeterminate that might have been spices or herbs. I shan't say what the perfume was, or what it was meant to smell like, in case anyone gets the opportunity to attend one of Mike's workshops or talks, but let's just say it was pretty left field in its inspiration!
There was more...Mike mentioned a thought provoking quote by Siri Hustvedt, speaking of the artist Morandi. Oddly, I have just read The Summer Without Men by her - not to be confused with the iPhone application of the same name - and used to have a Morandi print over my bed two houses ago. I think ex-Mr Bonkers must have won custody of it. Mike also referenced Mikhail Bulgarov's Master & Margarita, which is sitting in one of my many tsundokus, as is the Marquez book indeed.
You may well ask how I came to hear of this event, and the short answer is through my indie singer songwriter friend Jessica - she of the enviably smooth and high forehead, and somewhat protracted but happily successful rose perfume quest. Jessica knows Mike, but the connection is more with a relative of hers from a long time ago. So that was another coincidence.
Anyway, I could have chatted to the pair all afternoon, but suddenly realised the time, and Mike said I would need to get a move on to stand a chance of catching my train. He had not reckoned with my ability to deploy high intensity spurts of scurrying, mind (my own version of HIIT training, if you will), and I made the train with ten minutes to spare, including a stop at a market stall to buy a pair of the cheapest and most badly made pyjamas on the planet. At £6 though you can't go wrong, even if you do end up spending more time snipping off the stray ends of cotton than sleeping.
On my way back I spied this curious sign for a 'Genting Casino'. I had no idea that 'genting' was a verb, and have a strong suspicion it has very little to do with the kind of behaviour I might consider 'gentlemanly'...
PS The concept of scent and synaesthesia took me back to the event hosted by Le Labo which I wrote up in a guest post on Cafleurbon, where they got us to feel different textiles and say which one went with a particular scent. I bet that is an exercise Mike's colleague would have been brilliant at!
|A Rembrandt portrait, with bonus tantalising glimpses of M's desktop folders!|