It was quite refreshing and interesting for me to work with an artist and a talented director on this project. Collaborating with an artist is a bit different than working on a strictly scientific project because the guidelines and the framework are different and less restrictive. It was exciting though. During our first discussion, I suggested working on a project related to co sleeping and smell since I had a similar experience working with a famous artist in the past at an art studio in Manhattan, so Joana (she is interested in the connection between scent and self) and I brainstormed and came up with the idea of working on this T-Shirt project. The importance of sex in a healthy relationship is clear. How can we be comfortable only having sex with one other person? Sometimes, when a couple has been together for a long time, they don’t try new techniques or stop having sex on a regular basis.
Monogamous relationship is the perfect magic box to evolve sexually. We can bring the best qualities of our intimacy into the bedroom, having a trusted partner to experiment with. We believe odors can elicit a range of emotions. When it comes to sexual attraction, we can sniff out our perfect match by the body odor which is influenced by Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecules. The body odor can provide a signal of compatibility for potential mates and an attraction for shared sexual views. This similarity in values increases the likelihood partners are able to stay together for a long time. Does our sense of smell lead to monogamy?
The experience of chatting with Pooneh on a regular basis brought to my attention the role of scent in relationships and in sleep and to consider smell as a medium in itself. During the course of these few months I learned more about the science of smell with my good friend Amy Anthony, an aromatherapist, and more about sewing from another good friend Emilee Crosswell (who managed to teach me how to use a sewing machine via FaceTime!).
Initially, I was interested in examining the origin of body odour in our microbiome, connecting neatly to the trajectory of my work so far. I did some initial experiments culturing the microbiome of myself, my husband and my son - from our bodies and samples from our bed. The initial results were not terribly exciting and I felt I should use this opportunity to explore new ground. I became very interested in the connection between scent and self, how we manipulate our scent accidentally and deliberately, much as we do with everything else we use to express ourselves. I have a few projects in mind to continue to explore the continuity and discontinuity of our aural selves.
We got excited about a collaborative project initially aimed at helping a particular person, very sensitive to smell, find love, by sleeping with the scents of strangers. After some pushing, this idea went beyond the notion of dating to be about whether we find happiness in cosleeping with others, via their scent - Voulez-vous coucher pour moi?
We had started by examining Sense Dating, which made us sensitive to exploring the dating angle: how would our project make a contribution to this space? Just last week, Pooneh discovered another related, fantastic project called Smell Dating by Tega Brain. Similar to Sense Dating, participants provide a T-shirt for others to smell but also receive themselves a set of shirts to pick from.
How do deal with this type of alignment? For me, it’s a signal that the idea is important. Art that exists alone is likely talking to itself. Art that exists in a context with other voices, is participating in a dialog. This discovery is not as reason to stop, but a reason to move forth and contemplate rigorously the artistic and scientific motivations of the project. Voulez-Vous adds to the conversation by looking beyond sexual/romantic relationships at the broader conception of love/comfort and the unconscious context of sleep.
Looking at these other projects helped us double down in this direction and I revised the essay and materials to ensure it explicitly invites participants of all genders and sexual orientations. In the social context of in/divisiveness we are experiencing in the U.S., this message also seems to resonate.
The first six T-shirts have been packed and I have a few more volunteers already signed up. as soon as I can get them to the post office. I expect that it’ll take us another month or two to get all of the t-shirts out, back, to our test subject and slept with. The final output of the project is still to be defined, although I envision a graph of “happiness,” documentation of each pillow in the morning and the pillows themselves to play a role.
ONLY TWO MORE VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!
Looking beyond this project, there are many ideas I hope to come back to!
Please let us know if you’d like to Sleep for love!
This week we are putting out our call for participants:
Instructions for participants
Thanks for agreeing to participate in our study! Here is what you need to do:
What happens next?
Joana and I chatted last week; it was a pretty cool conversation. While Joana is working on fabrics to make the sachets, I am trying to buy all the materials (including T-shirts, envelopes, Ziploc, etc) and prepare 10 packages for the participants. The natural odor soaked into the T-shirt (if it’s not overly powerful), is powerful enough where we feel an attraction to it. Let’s take this as a sign of hope.
This week I sketched out the web page we can use to advertise the project: check it out here before it's officially shared out. The web page is hosted on Joana's web site, although no links are obvious to the rest of the site. On this page we embrace more clearly that this is an art/science project and share its intention. It'll be interesting and fun to make some ads for the project playing with some of the messaging that has become common around dating sites/apps and around research projects looking for volunteers.
This type of project is very new to me: we're in participation/performance territory except the actions happen in private. If someone does an artistic gesture but no-one is there to see it, did it really happen? How can we capture and share the intention and results?
If we want to feel inspired to stay committed, we should find someone who inspires us, someone who turns our body, mind and heart on in a variety of ways. Joana is going to write the final proposal and we are planning to meet this week and discuss more about the project.
Here we have the luxury of living in isolation. Dislike, indifference, apathy and silence … It is the modern life that many couples today are living together as strangers. There is a need for autonomy, but not for love. We spend our time on social media platform, and yet we feel lonely. We have hundreds of friends online, but we are not comfortable to say hi to one of them if we pass on the street. We know personal details about the others, but we find it difficult making time to see them. Sharing/liking photos, commenting on someone’s wall or retweeting are poor substitutes for the real thing. We frequently shy away from making decisions, we are lazy and we have fear of rejection. Do we know how to sustain pleasure in intimate relationship? Intimacy involves both emotional and physical openness. While sex is a good part of a relationship, it shouldn't be the only factor. Close relationships are based on a deep biological need. We should have the opportunity to express the intensity of our emotions. We know that infants need to be held and touched. Skin-to-skin contact between infant and parent is important for consistent emotional engagement. What we often forget is that the need for connection never goes away. We don’t just need a husband/wife. We want someone who would inspire and encourage us. Ego, anger and selfishness are causing us to part ways more than ever before. We wall off parts of ourselves and withdraw emotionally from the relationship.
A relationship is:
Where we act like adults.
Where we can be smooth with each other.
Where we show how much we care each other.
Where we can be serious with each other.
Where we make memories that last a lifetime.
Since intimacy is not only made of online dating apps, Joana and I think it will be interesting to see how we as humans are connected. Relationship is an invisible contract, and this project is just a start up…
Ready, set, go!
We're nailing down the details of the process and hope to post to the public this week. We'll share our short ad with friends and acquaintances, especially chatting with friends in the bioart community. We'll also start preparing the packets for participants including the t-shirt and instructions.
Pooneh & Joana's update
Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?
A study of scent in co sleeping & an offer of comfort
Purpose of the Project:
To determine whether it is possible to achieve feelings of comfort and abandonment through sense of smell.
To send a gift of comfort to New York City.
Required items (for study):
Duration of Study:
This project explores the role of smell during co sleeping in determining happiness.
For those who seek amorous relationships, there are many joys to be had but we each vary in what brings us joy, maybe it’s the initial adventures, or the long, intimate conversations, maybe it’s the sex. For many, the simple, animal comfort of sharing a bed with someone you love is not at the top of the list. And how do we find mates? Besides looks and Tinder profiles, smell is increasingly thought to mediate who we make connections with. Research into the microbiome and genetics hint at the subtlety of this mechanism in finding suitable mates. Sense Dating already investigates the role of smell in dating directly, where women chose a partner based on the scent of their clothes.
It’s our thought that the comfortable togetherness of co sleeping is a key component of how relationships build feelings of happiness and connection - and that this bond goes beyond sexual relationships. Be it for economic reasons (beds and bedrooms are expensive), emotional or physical safety or just for warmth, humans tend to not sleep alone. We’re interested in bottling the scent of co sleeping and examining its role in feelings of happiness and connection. How comforting is it to sleep with another person? Does it matter who it is? Does it matter whether they have a compatible sexual orientation? Is it better to sleep with someone than sleeping alone?
This project will take on two expressions: one closer to science and the other closer to art.
1. The study
11 male and female participants will be recruited - one of whom will be the tester. 10 participants will sleep with a provided T-shirt for three nights and mail it in. These participants should not alter their daily routine - bathing and using deodorants as normal. Each T-shirt will be packed into a breathable sachets.
A tester participant will then place the small pillowcases on her pillow while she sleeps for three nights. The tester will record existing feelings and thoughts on subjects such as mood, emotion, memory, state of relaxation, performance level at work and etc before, during and after the experiment.
Why do we sleep with other people? How comforting is it to sleep with another person?
We need you to SLEEP! Looking for volunteer participants for a three-day art study to determine whether the sense of smell can affect work performance and mood.
Eligible participants will be asked to sleep with a new T-shirt for three nights and mail it in. A female subject will sleep with a small pillow made from each T-shirt and record how the experience affects (or not) her mood and quality of sleep.
(To be posted on Facebook.)
2) The gift
New York City is a city of strangers and encounters, of Tinder dates and flash mobs, in a time of increased tension and division. Joana will prepare a set of scent pillows to be placed around the city. These pillows intend to bring comfort to anyone who choses to pick them up and take them home to sleep.
So way back in the mists of time I was a medical student on my psychiatry rotation. I am starting by saying that I loved everything about it. I remember a 25 years old lady admitted to our psychiatry outpatient clinic with a complaint of foul body odor. She had an idea that she emitted a sweaty body odor that disgusted people around her. She had applied to other clinics several times and asked for help to get rid of this smell, which however could not be detected by others. She regularly checked her odor, showered every time she left home, used excessive amounts of perfume, and habitually tried to sit at a distance from other people. Due to her stress, her social life was impaired. Her physical, neurologic, and laboratory evaluation showed no abnormalities. She had been suffering from olfactory reference syndrome (ORS) for 5 years. Her complaints had started while attending an art workshop. A guy sitting next to her asked her a question and had an unpleasant expression on her face. She had a belief that it might be her body odor that caused this response, and this belief grew stronger. The presented case suggests a relationship between a triggering stressful life event and the onset of ORS. Olfactory reference syndrome is an under recognized condition. Patients think they smell bad, but they don't. There is a mismatch between their own perception and the perception of others. It seems ORS is more common than generally believed. But it goes unrecognized and undiagnosed. Patients may have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), also body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Common Olfactory Reference Syndrome obsessions include:
Exaggerated fear of having extremely bad breath (halitophobia),
Fear of having a foul overall body/anal/vaginal or mouth odor or chemical odor.
Believing others’ behavior is related to their smell.
ORS can be impairing, to the point where some people consider suicide. If one thinks he/she smells bad but it is a false believe, better to find out if he/she has ORS. It is wise to be sure that one doesn't have a seizure disorder or another medical condition that might explain the symptoms. The differential diagnose for ORS may be complicated as the disorder shares features with other conditions. ORS may be misdiagnosed as another psychiatric or medical condition and vice versa.
What should we make of the study of patients' stories…
The past couple of weeks were primarily devoted to family and loved ones - what a year! It was necessary to spend some time just reminding each other of good things that happened, good things which are here and good things to look forward to.
My attention has been devoted to mastering the sewing machine… “mastering” is a strong term but with the help of a good friend, lots of soda, an inscrutable manual and at least a few YouTube videos I was able to sew a couple of lines - forward and backward. Below is the actual eureka moment captured in video!
This is an entirely new medium for me who up until now had mostly only sewn buttons! I’ve always had such respect for clothes makers, I have now added more for the extraordinary patience that is required.
Evidence! Hopefully it will get better...
Last week I gave a talk at a research center in West chester.It was about olfactory system and social connection, and I realized not everyone has adequate factual knowledge.
I am preparing myself to present a poster at Brain Stimulation conference in Manhattan. Also, I asked some friends to talk to their male friends/coworkers to help make it happen by volunteering for our real research project.
1. Obstructions of the nasal passages
2. Problems with the inner lining of your nose
3. Damage to the brain or nerves
a. Post Traumatic Anosmia
b. Medications (prescribed & over the counter)
c. Alcohol Abuse
d. Neurodegenerative Disorders
e. Multiple Sclerosis
g. Chronic Medical Disorders (liver and kidney disease, thyroid deficiency, Diabetes).
As we know the ability to smell affects the ability to taste. Without the sense of smell, the taste buds can only detect a few flavors. Losing this sense could cause to lose interest in eating and malnutrition.
I believe we shall exclude subject with any type of anosmia from the opportunity to participate in this project.
The case of X pillow
One idea Joana and I are exploring is to make a sachet and attach it to a pillow using velcro. We are trying to catch up and hopefully run this project. We're thinking about choosing the fabric and distributing the pillows in the city.
Not only it would be a great project to the participants, but also it is helping us understand the concept more clearly.
So for our slow dating project we will draw a pattern with a specific size and shape to make the sachets and will add the smelling stuffing (white cotton fabric).Well, I was thinking of something thin like herbal tea sachets, let’s see... Both Joana and I are interested in envisioning how it might play out in the near future.
Questions obtain by this study should be the following:
Is the recipient interested in meeting X?
After sleeping with his letter is X interested in return?
But what If they meet?
We’ll see where it goes. We want to dive in and discover the answers to these questions.
We know nothing about where our soul mate is. Of course some people try to fake it! Some of us hold some unconscious list of notions describing a “real” partner. And we judge people according to our ideals. As a result, many relationships that have potential are blocked. Will this trial help us?
As a result of working together for such a short time Joana and I believe on slow dating. We believe it is not an imagination, but a realization based on a real-world track record, already tested by time. We don’t just meet a “person” and live happily ever after, we grow together in certain ways, and this project is just a trigger.
Tim Minchin said:
With all my heart and all my mind I know one thing is true:
I have just one life and just one love and, my love, that love is you.
And if it wasn't for you, baby,
I really think that I would
have somebody else.
Real intimacy vs. the fake stuff. Can we distinguish these based on body odor?
My dayjob is product management - a role that that has many interesting contrasts with being a visual artist. A product manager needs to understand their user and design an experience that meets a need, ameliorates a pain or increases a gain (or all of the above). An artist doesn’t have the same type of objective.. objective, some artists may not even consider the participant or viewer of their work and some artists may even be interested in creating or exhacerbating a negative feeling! In this project, it was useful to consider some of the similarities and draw directly from a PM’s tools - specifically the consideration of a user “funnel.”
What audience are we trying to reach with our “love pillows”? X (our “sender”) is a heterosexual female searching for men. We are not allowing any other constraints or requirements since that would defeat the intention (the men also won’t know any details about X). We’ll leave pillows in location that X likes or frequents, which may hopefully increase the chance of finding like-minded partners.
We can only create a finite number of pillows - let’s call this step 1; of this number, only a fraction will actually be picked up (“found” in the picture) - step 2; of these, only a fraction will actually make it into the person’s bed - step 3; and of those, only a fraction will have enough persistence/patience to follow the instructions and sleep with a shirt for so many days and send it back - step 4; and of these, (since X has committed to follow through and sleep with all of them) there is no guarantee that a single one will have an odor that X is willing to meet - step 5!
How can we increase our chances? We can look at the drops between each step and figure out what is causing the attrition. For the pillows to get into bed with men, many steps can go wrong. We can address this by also posting online about this project and asking for participants. We can then ship directly to any respondents. These folks will get the pillows delivered and are more likely to get through step 3. If we send them a shirt and detailed instructions via e-mail, they are also more likely to complete step 4. For guys organically finding the pillows, we can decrease only step 4 by making their prep easier - maybe they only have to mail in a shirt worn to sleep for a few days.
This analysis is another reminder to consider the intention of the project: this is not a dating project, it is certainly slow and difficult compared to Tinder! It’s about creating a moment for strangers to encounter X, to transport them to the moment of intimacy deep into a relationship, a moment of comfort and abandon.
This week I did some experimentation sewing and glueing velcro strips to fabrics - it seems to work ok but covers the needles in glue. We many not be able to use a sewing machine for this step because of this but doesn’t take very long. Most importantly though...
… the smell of the velcro has decreased significantly! I think it can be used in our pillows! This week, I’ll seek out fabrics and patterns.
Over the week I was reading blog posts including http://www.pheromoneparties.com/.
Artist Judith Prays realized that online dating didn’t work for her. She wanted to know how can people date based on body odor. The first event was in Brooklyn in November 2010. What kind of party was that? How can we date based on body odor? Participants slept in a clean t-shirt for 3 nights to capture their body odor and then put it in a ziplock. Bags were labeled pink for female and blue for male with a number on them. Only the person knew what his/her bag number was. People smelled the bags, and if a person found the smell attractive, he/she took a picture with the bag and the photos were projected as a slide show on the wall. The person could go and talk to the one who has chosen his/her bag.
Last night Joana and I had a call, discussing possible ideas for what a t-shirt/box and memory/mood study might look like. Not all scents come from plants, or created in labs. Some smells occur in a once-in-a-lifetime, such as smell of the old school cafeteria. Good, bad or neutral, they are forever in the neural landscape, never to be forgotten. You catch a whiff of this smell and suddenly you’re immersed in a flurry of memories. Smells get routed through your olfactory bulb; it’s closely connected to your amygdala and hippocampus, regions that handle memory and emotion. Studies show that odors are effective as reminders of past experience. Can you harness the power of scents to trigger real physical and emotional responses through someone’s body smell? Joana and I are interested to find out that if a person’s smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence another person’s mood and affect his/her work performance. As Joana and I have been working together on brainstorming ways that we can start the project we thought it is nice to meet each other in person. We talked about how to meet and find the material for our project in the stores. For now I am left with thinking about finding a gift shop and what we can buy for the project.
Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?
Playing on the idea of Sense Dating, Pooneh and I discussed the case of X. X is an hetero woman living in New York City, very sensitive to the sense of smell, she has multiple times broken off possible relationships due to incompatibility of… nose. Can we help X?
What if we craft a love letter, a message in a bottle, capturing her self, her scent, and put it into the world to attract a mate? This love letter would capture her nighttime presence through smell, the self that is only accessible in moments of pure abandon, of relaxation and co-sleeping. The closeness of an intimate relationship. Anyone who finds the “letter” and is interested, can take it home and… sleep with it, relax with the projected embodiment of X and see how they feel. If the recipient is interested in meeting X, he’ll need to send his own “letter.” And X, if she wishes to, will sleep with it too. If she is interested in return, we will facilitate a connection between the two.
This week, Pooneh and I talked about the exhibit at the Museum of Feelings that she had gone to see the previous week. Pooneh described that the scent installations were in enclosed tubes that she saw as very relaxing but also as having a message and an emotion. We were both very interested in the immersive quality of an experience that encompasses all the senses. Could we connect this idea to our ongoing dialog about the role of scent in relationships?
Can we capture the smell of a person? Can we create a portrait via scent alone? Can we make a “message in a bottle” that is a personal ad? How about a scratch-and-sniff personal add? Can we embed this smell in a pillow or a box or an actual portrait? Can we make you feel so close to someone you have never met? Can you fall in love with the closeness and the warmth of someone you have never met?
We talked about the possibility of creating pillows with the scent of a person. I used a body pillow during my pregnancy and I think I bonded with it. There is something about the physicality of something large and huggable that is very viscerally comforting. I thought of boyfriend pillows and body pillows.
Pooneh described how she got to know the olfactory artist Gayil Nalls, and that one of Gayil’s great talents would be to get to know an individual and brew a scent that was almost like a love potion. Somehow this scent might lead the person to their true love. The lure of a love potion may be one of our oldest, most powerful, dreams. How is a scent a love potion? Does it read who you are and tell you about your other half, so that you can better find them? Does it affect the environment in other ways so that you and they may find each other?
Pooneh also mentioned that she was a magnet for animals of all kinds - furry ones and stingy ones. Could we make an animal love potion from her biology that anyone could use to get along better with animals?
I immediately think of amplifying someone’s smell to either make them more attractive or perhaps just more find-able by potential mates. Amplifying someone’s smell may be .. less than pleasant though! Perhaps, more sinister, one could create a mask of someone else’s smell and go into the world wielding their special powers of attraction, occupying their unique space in the world, potentially subverting or polluting the unconscious sense of their presence.
My friend Amy Anthony is conducting a workshop on aromatherapy and how to create candles with beautiful smells and beautiful purpose using essential oils. A year or so ago, I asked Amy to create a gift for a friend of mine who was getting married. This was a long time friend I had not seen in a while, we had gone through many difficult and wonderful times together. I wanted to give her peace of mind and Amy nodded as if I was not insane and created a body lotion. Amy is a wonderful mix of artist and scientist herself and she plays with the neuroscience and biology of essential oils in a subtle and poetic way. Pooneh and I are interested in investigating techniques of capturing and manipulating scent.
We have discussed the possibility of using clothes of volunteers to capture their smell and placing them in pillows or similar objects. In a research projects on this topic, volunteers are often asked to not bathe or use deodorant, because this changes their smell. Like we’ve learned recently, these chemicals either mask or outright destroy the natural fauna of our bodies that creates the smells in the first place. For me, though, we are nature and nurture, biology and culture. I am not just my microbes and body - although I am that - but I am also that which I construct each day in such small gestures as chosing an outfit, chosing my words, and yes, chosing a deodorant and a perfume. So, in exploring characterizing a person through their scent, I cannot restrict myself to their biological smell, but must include everything else about them. Their laundry detergent, cigarettes, coffee, the smell of their city or of their pet…
One of the things that was very interesting in our conversation was that as we brainstormed, Pooneh often returned to the idea of creating or manipulating these scents and then asking volunteers for their response. Perhaps due to her scientific training, her point of view takes on more of an experimental bent. I think I am most interested in the creation of an object and an internal experience, where Pooneh is most interested in characterizing and investigating results - I think this may be how our collaboration takes shape. I asked her to discuss further what she would ask participants and why.
Last year I attended the brain stimulation conference in Manhattan and I submitted pictures of the NYC Neuromodulation event for the Photo Contest. As a result, they offered me a free registration code for the NYC Neuromodulation 2017 Conference.
Getting back to our topic, Joana and I had a fruitful conversation. It seems we have many things in common. Together we were thinking of seeing something new arise from our understanding of one another. We both like to run the microbiome project and meantime we are thinking about working on some other experiments. I suggested the idea of pillow project in which Joana was very interested. So what is it about?
Previous studies showed lavender is effective in inducing sleep. Lavender pillows are usually very small pillows filled with lavender. They are not large enough for sleeping on, but rather, a little sachet of comfort to tuck in beside the person at night. These pillows promote relaxation, and help people enjoy a good night sleep.
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Pooneh Heshmati is an award-winning cognitive neuroscientist, physician, and post doctoral researcher at Northwell Health in New York.
Joana Ricou is an award-winning NYC-based artist, and creative director of Regenerative Medicine Partnership for Life.