What do cities smell like? What does culture smell like? And more importantly, in what ways can we interpret these smells? Dora Goldsmith, Birthe Leemeijer and Dr. Kate McLean re-examine the way we experience history and urban life – translating smells into stories and maps.

The presentation will take place on September 27, 2019, at 20:30, in Amsterdam, in the Mediamatic art centre.


We might recognize cities by what they look like, but their scentscapes are just as unique. For over a decade there has been an enormous increase in olfactory mapping practices by scholars and artists. Instead of painting iconic skylines, artists like Sissel Tolaas, Birthe Leemeijer, Maki Ueda and Peter de Cupere have mapped which smells characterize certain cities and areas.

Even though smells are fleeting, it is possible to record and map the olfactory dimension of cities. At this Odorama, two top scholars will shed light on the smells of contemporary cities, and even ancient ones.

The night will be introduced by Caro Verbeek, who will show some recent examples of olfactory mapping projects by artists.

This edition of Odorama is curated by Caro Verbeek. Odorama is a concept by head curator Caro Verbeek and a collaboration with co-curators Frank Bloem and Sanne Groeneveld.

Dora Goldsmith

Dora Goldsmith is PhD student of Egyptology at the Freie Universität Berlin. The topic of her PhD project is the sense of smell in ancient Egypt, the exact title of her research being “The Archaeology of Smell in Ancient Egypt. A Cultural Anthropological Study Based on Written Sources”. Dora’s PhD project incorporates linguistic and cultural anthropological research. She records and translates all ancient Egyptian texts that include words related to olfaction, which help her define the role of smells in the ancient Egyptian society. In order to better apprehend the ancient Egyptian documents she works with, Dora also employs the method of experimental archaeology or ‘learning by doing’. She reconstructs the smells the ancient sources describe.

Dora will also be giving a workshop the following day, on the smell of mummification. If you would like to join this workshop, you can find tickets here.

Dr. Kate McLean

In her talk, Dr. McLean will be presenting Smellmaps – handy tools to better quantify the way a city smells. No city is just one scent – it is an (often overwhelming) compilation of everything that makes up the city. As she says on her website:

People expect Amsterdam to smell primarily of cannabis. […] But it only featured in a couple of neighbourhoods and missed inclusion here. Instead spring 2013 in Amsterdam revealed an abundance of the warm, sugary, powdery sweetness of waffles. Oriental spices emanated from Asian and Surinamese restaurants and supermarkets, pickled herring from the herring stands and markets – a link to one of the city’s key historical industries. Old books were detected in basement doorways and laundry aromas drifted up into the streets from Amsterdam’s many house hotels.

Birthe Leemeijer

With L’essence de Mastenbroek, Birthe Leemeijer and the perfumer nasomatto have captured the scent of a polder; a typical Dutch landscape, enclosed by dikes. Polders are endangered by new landscape designs, making this project incredibly valuable. Leemeijer installed a tap on a mound (terp) in Mastenbroek, to be used at will by the inhabitants, and she transferred the rights to sell the perfume to them, hence creating a social, volatile work of art. Leemeijer is intrigued by the fact that the smell enables people to mentally transport themselves to another place.


Odorama: Scentscapes
Friday, the 27th of September
Start 20.30
Mediamatic Biotoop, Dijksgracht 6, Amsterdam
Tickets: Full price €7,50 | Artist / Student / Stadspas €5,25 | +€2,50 at the door | (including €1 administration fee)