Portrait and interview
For the upcoming “Inspirations Dior” exhibition, which will be inaugurated at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow on April 26th, Russian artist Olga Kisseleva has created a monumental installation based on Dior’s leading fragrance, J’Adore. Olga Kisseleva talks about the “Perfume Organ”, designed based on J’Adore in line with her esthetic research of the past 10 years, focusing on “making the invisible visible”.
“The mantra behind my work: making the invisible visible”
A pioneer digital artist
Born in 1965 in Saint Petersburg, Olga Kisseleva is a Russian artist with scientific training and an unusual career. A trailblazer in digital art, she has lived in France for over a decade. Today a recognized artist, Olga Kisseleva hails from a family of scientists and physicians and has earned a degree in nanotechnology.
“In the days of the Soviet Union, being a physician meant also being a state official in the department of armament”, the number one priority in the government’s budget at the time. “I wanted to have a creative occupation in order to escape the world of state office. But becoming an artist in Russia is very difficult and I did not think I could succeed. Later, to my great surprise, I was accepted at the Academy of Applied Arts in Saint Petersburg.” Yet, Olga Kisseleva did not want to be an artist in the Soviet Union, where works of art were highly influenced by the authorities. She sought to reconcile her scientific and artistic training by turning her attention to graphics and design. “Everything I touched seemed to turn into a work of art.”
At the beginning of the 1990s, the artist was invited by the Fulbright Foundation to join a team of designers developing digital technologies in the United States. She worked at Columbia University and University of California, taking part in the adventure of the first Silicone Valley startups. In 1995, Pontus Hulten invited her to the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques in Paris.
Olga’s scientific education has a strong influence on her work. “For me, everything starts with an equation. I know what my work has to express and then I look for the right way to reach its finished form, “she says with humor. In her work, she is able to explain everything, certain of each comma. She prepares meticulously, proceeding with the creative phase only when absolutely sure of the starting-point equations.
Olga also likes to be surprised and surpassed by her own work: “I particularly like for people to look at my work and then tell me what they see and how it affects them. Sometimes, the result can be very different from what I had planned. But I have reached my goal when my installation has an emotional impact on the people who see it.”
“I have reached my goal when my installation has an emotional impact on the people who see it”
Olga Kisseleva’s work has been shown at the Centre Pompidou (Paris), MOMA (NY), Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), ARC (Paris), KIASMA (Helsinki), CAPC (Bordeaux), Musee Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid), Fondation Cartier (Paris), Ludwig Museum (Budapest), Shanghai Art Museum, National Center for Contemporary Art (Moscow), and at the Biennales of Venice, Istanbul, Lyon, Dakar, Tirana, Rennes and Moscow. It is also part of various great public and private collections in Russia, Europe and Asia.
List of most recent work and installations:
Double Vie, personal exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Valladolid, Spain, 2011
Nature Morte, installation, Louvre, Paris, France, 2011
Conclusive Evidence, installation, Centre Pompidou Metz, France, 2010
CrossWorlds, monumental installation, public commission, Théâtre d’Argentan, France, 2010
Windows, personal exhibition, Musée National Marc Chagall, Nice, France, 2009
Sept Envies Capitales, personal exhibition, Musée National Picasso, Vallauris, France, 2009
A “Perfume Organ” for J’Adore
After a full year of work, Olga Kisseleva talks to us about her ideas and creative process shortly before finalizing her video installation project at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
One year of preparations
Seven people work in my Paris area studio on the initial project construction and technical preparation. We conduct assembly testing and design the technical architecture in the studio. But this monumental work, 3 meters high and 5 meters wide, will be completed on site, at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The project was launched one year ago, at a time when I did a great deal of work on Dior fragrances, especially on J’Adore. I succeeded in maintaining a continuous dialog with Dior during the project’s reflection and development phases.
Meeting with François Demachy
I had the pleasure to meet the Perfumer-Creator of Christian Dior fragrances, François Demachy, on several occasions. I was a little anxious since I had never known a perfume designer before. Generally, people are shaped by their occupation. When you meet an engineer or a sales representative, you prepare to speak with that type of person, and you can anticipate how the conversation will go. But I was going to meet a great “nose” and knew nothing about his profession!
I realized from our first conversation that he is simply an artist and therefore a close colleague. I felt a special affinity and closeness to him. An artist’s goal is to have an emotional impact on others and to create an impression through art. This is also true for perfume creators, with the exception that the essence of their work is not materially visible, mainly olfactory. They are a little like chefs.
François wanted to ‘test’ me right away; he asked me if I like to cook. I told him that I love to cook. We got along extremely well from the start. He showed me his laboratory, his office, his bottles and ingredients. He talked to me about some of the fragrances and asked me to smell them. Our first encounter was very important for my creative process.
The incredible power of the perfume organ
We discussed at length the fragrances that caught my attention in his olfactory laboratory. François explained how the essences are made from raw materials. We talked about the associations between some essences in creating a fragrance.
When François showed me his work table, he presented it as his “perfume organ”. That made a great impression on me! The organ is an instrument I worship. I studied music for ten years in Russia and I also played the organ a little. This instrument has incredible power and it makes me vibrate every time I listen to it.
“The organ is an instrument I worship. (…) This instrument has incredible power and it makes me vibrate every time I listen to it.”
Because of the multiplicity of these two elements, I decided to create an analogy between the organ and perfume. The organ is like a symphonic orchestra with multiple registers. A fragrance is a collage of multiple essences that can be formulated to also reflect different registers. Hence, I imagined my glass structure to be an organ, trying to recreate its vertical nature.
J’Adore, an opulent and well-balanced fragrance
When François Demachy talked to me about J’Adore, he said that this is a very well-balanced, harmonious fragrance with few negative or controversial notes. On the contrary, J’Adore contains many clear notes. He explained what makes this perfume’s composition rich in terms of the variety of its essences, unique in the entire range of Dior fragrances.
François Demachy gave me the list of all J’Adore ingredients. Some are expected and others not at all! The words defining J’Adore that left the biggest impression on me are: femininity, sensuality, wealth and treason. As François explained, every perfume must feature negative notes because it will have no impact if it made with sweet, clear and positive notes alone. François includes in all his fragrances a few unexpected, unconventional scents to make the perfume stronger. There is a hint of rose in J’Adore, and the rose can be a symbol of treason, which surprised me.
I found the drop-shaped bottle of J’Adore very interesting to deal with in my work because I am fascinated by the craft of glass-blowers. My work captures a multitude of glass drops or amphora to give shape to a “perfume organ”.
Volatility and visibility
A fragrance is in its essence “volatile”. This is why making it visible and palpable is very hard. Hence my idea to use smoke in order to make the invisible visible! It is the artist’s role to create a framework for something we do not see at first sight. Generally speaking, the artist’s role is to show things from a different angle. My goal for this project was to truly make perfume and its suggestive powers visible. I wanted to underline the intended philosophy set forth by the creators of J’Adore, together with the unintended philosophy, all the facets expressed by the fragrances, which they did not plan for. When you create something, you want to express a thought. But sometimes your creation outgrows you and expresses a lot more. Other forces come into play.
“My goal for this project was to truly make perfume and its suggestive powers visible.”
When I create a work of art, I always start with an equation in order to be sure of what that work of art will express. I begin the creative process only when I am 200% sure of this scientific foundation. I realized what this work was going to represent in Russia, in the halls of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, bathed in the ambiance in which the exhibition visitors will now come to see it.
I had J’Adore analyzed by a team of researchers studying the philosophy of smell at the Sorbonne. They included philosophers, linguists, semiologists, sociologists, and art historians. I had them work on the list of the 35 ingredients in J’Adore. They gave me their feedback in the form of emotional notions. I received about 200 ideas, which I then presented to François Demachy to see his reaction. He approved of some and was surprised by others. This continued to feed into our collaboration, our dialog, and served as a basis for the video creations included in my work.
I also wanted to have a glass structure in the installation in order to circulate smoke inside it. Because it was eventually featured in the videos, there is finally no smoke in the glass. But I was able to keep the idea of a glass structure.
Each of the 4 videos is seven minutes long. They are played simultaneously on 4 screens set up around the glass structure. The videos are relatively slow-paced. Russian cinema, especially Andreï Tarkovsky, had a very strong influence on me. I thought that projecting my videos through this organic glass structure would help the visitors discover the J’Adore universe. It is my interpretation. As a result, the light emanating from the videos is broken down inside the glass. The videos are in color although filmed with an ultraviolet neon light, which has a bluish tinge in contrast to the metal rods holding the drops.
By: Jen Abrams
Source: Brand Culture & Heritage Department
Frédéric Bourdelier – Béatrice Chalmot de La Meslière