Taking over the large main room of Bridget Donahue this month, artist Sean Raspet has assembled a strangely minimalist arrangement of objects along the walls of the space. Small white machines jut out into space, each humming quietly and dispensing a subtle scent. These timed micro-diffusers are each emitting a scent designed by the artist, an experiment in scent reception that plays on his interests in synthetic compounds and their phenomenological capabilities.
Sean Raspet, Detail: OR: 52D1 (1G1) (2018), via Bridget Donahue
“The science of lesser perceptions” is perhaps the best way to describe Raspet’s conceptual practice over the past several years. Trained originally as an artist, Raspet nevertheless executed some of his early work as a designer, working closely with the West Coast meal supplement company Soylent as a flavorist. Exploring the capacities for molecule design as a base-level building block for perceptual experiences of space and objects, Raspet’s work outside the corporate sphere has ranged across smell and taste, often exploring the secretive chemical compounds of protected and patented designs, including on particularly noteworthy piece in which the artist decoded the physical differences between the flavors of Pepsi and Coca-Cola at a molecular level, applying for a patent on the negative space between these two different compounds.
Raspet’s interest in the space between corporate-designed realities, and the attendant scents and figures takes center stage in New York this month, as he opens a show of new, never-before-created molecules at The Artists’ Institute uptown. Mixing together elements and compounds to create new molecular structures, Raspet’s presentations concern themselves with the real senses and human reception of these products. The act of smell, or that of taste stands in for the appreciation of new painterly concepts or organizations of space, delving into the unseen, yet still perceptible, as a space still wide-open for exploration.
The result here at Bridget Donahue are a range of what the artist considers “primary colors” of sorts, compositional blocks of molecules perceived by various scent receptors in the human nose that he worked with in various combinations for his new molecules. Raspet delves into the elemental building blocks of materiality, coming back up with trace scents and sensations rather than pictorial evidence. Distilled down to basic sensations, Raspet presents a minimalism of the nose and the periodic table. The result is akin to pacing through a gallery viewing monochromatic compositions, feeling the scents gradually shift and change, and occasionally blur together as the “viewer” moves between diffusers. Raspet fundamentally understands his modes of practice, underscoring both the material labor behind each composition, and its end results, and allows space itself to do the rest.
There’s countless shadows and implications in Raspet’s work, from the notion of corporate bio-chemical control to the undermining of the regime of the eye, yet all of these themes seem to rise and fall as the viewer passes through the space, moving in and out of the foreground in exchange with the powerful, and vaguely familiar smells on “view.” For Raspet, this is perhaps his most impressive achievement, a show of work so abstracted in its materiality, yet so closely aligned with the act of artistic appreciation and contemplation.
The show is on view through April 22nd.
— D. Creahan
Sean Raspet: Receptor-Binding Variations [Bridget Donahue]