Brian Goeltzenleuchter conceived of Scents of Exile in 2014 as a project proposal to an art exhibition of the same title, curated by Ashraf Osman. Unfortunately, the exhibition never materialized, and Scents of Exile was shelved for nearly five years.

In 2018, Brian received an invitation to be artist-in-residence at Sculpture Space during the fall of the following year. His intention was to study the sculptural dimension of olfactory space. While in residence, Brian was introduced to the administrators of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees located in Utica, New York. It was a very bleak time for refugee organizations nationwide as governmental cuts slashed budgets, impacting resources and programs. Working with Sculpture Space and the MVRC, Brian developed the first two Scents of Exile profiles (Keyro, 22, 2019 and Azira, 52, 2019). The project was beta tested at Utica Station in late 2019.

Less than three months later, the country—and the world— would come to a standstill as SARS-CoV-2 spread internationally. While sheltering in place in San Diego, Brian continued to develop Scents of Exile. A simple social media post yielded dozens of willing participants who responded to the aims of the project and wished to share their stories. Brian conducted Zoom interviews for a period of three months.

The next step was designing fragrances that evoked the scent memories told to him by his interview subjects. The scent making process uses perfume-grade materials that are heavily diluted in order to only remain on the user’s hands for a few minutes. The scent compositions are blended into a conventional hand sanitizing solution that exceeds the requirements set by the World Health Organization.

After developing the fragrances, Brian standardized the visual aspects of the project through a series of monochrome relief-printed posters summarizing the interview subject’s biography and scent memories. The poster colors were chosen as a visual interface that connects the written and olfactory narratives. Cultural institutions wishing to feature Scents of Exile in their spaces will receive 1 liter of scented hand sanitizer, a corresponding poster, a freestanding dispenser with poster frame, and a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

The first exhibition featuring Scents of Exile is scheduled to open in May 2021 at the Städtische Galerie Bremen and other partner museums in Germany. In June 2021, the project will be exhibited at Olfactory Art Keller Gallery in New York City.